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 Wikipedia 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
The activity at Black Point Wildlife Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Orlando Wetlands Park, and Viera Wetlands is slowing down now from the peak nesting and breeding season. Most of the young ones are hatched, grown, and fledged, although you can still find some amazing sights such as a White Eyed Vireo nest next to the boardwalk at the MINWR visitors center.
At BPWD the water is quite low. We found some concentrations of birds in a few of the areas that did have water including Redish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, etc. There are also some juvenile Green Herons in the bushes by the rest rooms. But the ducks seem to be mostly gone – even the moorhens and coots. And we haven’t seen any Kingfishers lately either. We did see an Eastern Kingbird on BPWD, and a Northern Parula and Grey Catbird at the visitor center.
Wading Roseate Spoonbill – feeding at BPWD
Orlando Wetlands is quiet too – both people and birds. I was the only visitor when I went by last Thursday morning. I saw a solitary Swallow-tail Kite fly by briefly (too fast to get a photo). And there were plenty of Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, some hawks, limpkins, herons and egrets – but again the most of the ducks seem have gone elsewhere.
Mom and kid Limpkin on a sunrise stroll
At Viera Wetlands we saw a few of the usual birds and there are still some GBH juveniles on nests. Terns and Ospreys were putting on a fishing demonstration. It’s fun to watch this behavior and it’s a good situation for Birds in Flight practice.
Blue Heron Portrait
And even if the birding is slowing down, you can always find some landscape photo ops around the area.
Drippy: I was scouting for new sunrise locations and got to the Cocoa Beach pier a bit late. I decided to make a photo anyway… Next time I’ll be there before dawn.
If you click on any of the photos, they’ll open in Flickr, where you can see larger versions. You can also see some of my previous photos from:
Lynn and I visited the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery this morning. Breeding season is in full swing and there are nests, eggs, and chicks of all varieties. Check the Native Swamp & Rookery blog for their latest status.
Here are three photos I made there this morning:
Little Blue Heron watching people
You can see many more photos that I’ve made in St. Augustine in this set on Flickr. By the way, I took a “new” camera and made some photos with it for a future blog post. It should be interesting if they turn out.
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.
Black Point Wildlife Drive
Yesterday, I visited Black Point 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 Black Point. 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 Black Point 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 Black Point 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.
I’ve found that one of the pleasures of bird photography and bird watching in general is the repeated observation of locations over the course of a nesting season. When you return to a place regularly, you can watch the behavior of the parents over time as well as the young birds as they develop.
I’m fortunate to live relatively close to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Bird Rookery and I was able to visit four times recently. This was the first year that Roseate Spoonbills have nested there and the farthest north that they’ve been recorded nesting. In this post, I’ll show you a sequence of photographs made over about six weeks of the two easily seen Spoonbill nests at the Rookery. Nest 1 is on the right side of the boardwalk closest to the entrance. Nest 2 is the one you can see from the far end of the boardwalk close to the large tree.
This first photo was taken at the end of May and shows one Spoonbill above and to the right of nest 2. At the bottom left you can barely make out one of the very young and small Spoonbills. This is the first photo I managed to make of the chicks. Sorry about the quality. The chicks didn’t come out in the open at all when I was there that time.
Mother Spoonbill keeps an eye on chick, nest 2. May 30th, 2010
Here is the same nest (#2) two weeks later. The chicks have grown a bit, have some beginning feathers, and are more active.
Roseate Spoonbill Mom and chicks in nest 2, June 13th, 2010
And this photo shows how large the chicks had grown yesterday when I visited – quite a difference in only 16 days!
Roseate Spoonbill Mom and chicks near nest 1, July 5th, 2010
Several of the young Spoonbills have fledged and I was able to capture this photo of one of them trying its wings:
Juvenille Spoonbill tests its wings, July 5th, 2010
So you can see how fast these Spoonbills develop. From just hatched and barely moving to flying in about 6 weeks. I’ve enjoyed following their progress this year. What a wonderful opportunity!
The bad news for those of you that haven’t yet visited the Alligator Farm is that you’ve missed most of the nesting season. Make your plans for next year!
Lynn and I paid another visit to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm this morning to check on things at the Rookery. Things are hopping!
After a somewhat slow start (cold weather?), the Rookery has had a very active and varied nesting season. If you haven’t visited yet, you need to get over there before you completely miss your chance until next year. You can still see many species in the nest with chicks, although there are also many juveniles that have grown very large and are even flying around.
According to Gen Anderson – who is the Bird & Mammal Curator at the Alligator Farm (via the firstname.lastname@example.org mailing list – no longer available), there have been over 250 nests with more than 700 chicks counted in the rookery. That’s a tremendous number of birds in a relatively small area! The following species are resident:
Mama Woodstork preens one of her chicks
Cattle Egret nest with chicks
Tri-Colored Heron nest with chicks
Mother Spoonbill with eggs
Great egrets, Snowy egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Green Herons are also in residence.
There are four Spoonbill nests in the rookery and since I’ve never seen Spoonbill nests or chicks, these have been very exciting for me. This is the first year that they’ve nested at the Alligator Farm and the farthest north they’ve been recorded nesting. Two of the nests are well hidden at the back of the property, but the other two are easily viewed. All four contain chicks although it is difficult to see them, since they’re still so small. The chicks in the easily viewed nests will only be there for about another 5 weeks before they fledge.
We’re really blessed in Central Florida with many places that photography and nature enthusiasts can visit. The Photography Interest Group took another trip to Black Point Wildlife Drive yesterday. There was a lot to see.
I used a 750mm effective focal length lens to shoot this sunrise photo. I like the transparent look of the trees in front of the sun.
A 4 shot panorama.
Kevin McKinney (who has the knack for spotting things) let us know there were kingfishers in the area. I saw this one (my first ever) and made a very quick photo hand-held out the window at 750mm (eq). Thank goodness for optical stabilization! It was terribly back-lit, but the best I could do. It flew off as soon as we opened the door, living up to their reputation for being very skittish.
Like the previous time I was there, we saw many spoonbills. This one posed for us for a while. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the fishing line wrapped around its bill. Please, please think twice before you throw anything in the water.
3/22/10 update: Good news! Kevin Krause reports that the fishing line was gone a little later.
A beautiful bird. I hope it can get the fishing line untangled from its upper bill.
And finally, here’s another gator eye photo. In this one you can see both Keith and Ed in the upper right.