I enjoy mornings like this one. Out in nature, seeing the sun rise in a pretty spot, or handsome birds posing in lovely light – with my camera along to hopefully capture an impression of a gorgeous moment in front of me.
A new sun kisses the morning marsh
Before the pandemic, most of my photography excursions were with other people along to share the sights and experience. Now, it’s rare to go out with anyone else. Sometimes there are other folks around, but I’m mostly by myself seeing beautiful things that no one else sees (even if there’s someone else there!).
When I made all of the images in this post (and many of the photos in recent posts), I was the only one there to witness what I photographed. I’m grateful that the universe arranges these scenes for me, but it seems like a lot of trouble for an audience of one.
I suppose that’s not the right way to think about it. It’s not about me / us. The universe goes about its business regardless of whether any one or thing is there to observe (let’s set aside metaphysics and quantum mechanics for now).
It’s not creating things just for us. Although it seems like it if we’re the only one there.
Isn’t it incredible that even in an urban area like Central Florida we can still at times enjoy nature in uncrowded or even empty places.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please be kind, take care of yourselves and each other – and if you can, get out and make some photos! Maybe I’ll see you out there!
It’s begun: We’re finally leaving the hot weather behind here in Central Florida. Cooler temperatures and lower humidity (and fewer biting insects!) make outside activities even more pleasant. Birds / wildlife enjoy this weather too: There’s more for us to see as migrant species pass through or stop by for the winter
Here are some photos I made last Wednesday in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I went first to Black Point Wildlife Drive. I got there a little too early so there wasn’t much activity yet. The calm reflections in one of the still ponds along the way was attractive, though:
A peaceful, easy morning
I decided to make another pass around Black Point. I’m glad I did. There was more going on the second time through. I spotted these some I haven’t seen in a while:
Northern Shoveler (migrant)
Savannah Sparrow (migrant)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (year round)
Belted Kingfishers reappeared starting a month or so ago, but this is the first halfway decent photo I’ve managed to get. As usual, this one flew off as soon as I raised my camera. I just sat still waiting and it returned a few minutes later.
Belted Kingfisher (migrant)
I’ve been seeing Grebes for a while too. This one was showing off its fresh catch while keeping a wary eye on me so I didn’t swipe breakfast.
Grebe and grub (migrant / less common in Summer)
These Roseate Spoonbills were a good distance off the road near the entrance to Black Point Wildlife drive. They’re spotted in the refuge year round, but I hadn’t photographed any since last February. I’m looking forward to closer encounters and maybe better photos over the winter.
And lastly, these gorgeous Goldenrod flowers were blooming in several areas around the refuge.
Our weather here in Central Florida is finally starting to cool off a bit. I could definitely feel a difference when I set out for Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge early last Monday. And the high temperature reached just 81ºF later that day. Our forecast for next weekend predicts highs in the mid 70s – the beginning of a very nice time of year!
Anyway, I came home with a number of photos I really like. This week I’m going to go way over my usual photo quota and share many of them. First, a couple of landscapes
Beneath the bridge at daybreak: This is along side the A. Max Brewer Causeway, looking east into the refuge, about a half hour before sunrise.
Around the shore: Pretty light and calm water along Gator Creek Road, about 15 minutes before sunrise
Next, some visitors. As pleasant as the cooler temperatures are, they also mean it’s time to start looking for some of our winter bird friends and I spotted several on my trip.
Palm Warbler. They can be a little jumpy and hard to photograph. But this one sat still for a moment on an interesting and close perch, in nice light, with a good background. Doesn’t happen very often for me – I’m glad it was briefly cooperative.
Adopt an Area: This Eastern Phoebe has adopted the refuge for a while.
Blue Wing Teal: A few ducks have started to show up too.
Of course we also have many of our normal residents around.
Bottlenose Dolphin: The Dolphins and the Brown Pelicans were chasing plentiful fish in Haulover Canal
The header image is a of a Brown Pelican that just caught a fish in the canal. It’s not that good of a photo, but I kept it because it shows an interesting moment in nature’s circle of life.
Posing Anhiga: Anhigas are very common here but still well worth photographing when they pose against such a nice background in morning light.
Dragonfly: These can be skittish too, but if you see one in pretty light, be patient and still. Often they’ll return to the same perch and you can squeeze your shutter button.
I saw other birds on this trip, including Great Blue and Tri-colored Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibis, Ospreys, Belted Kingfishers (sorry couldn’t get a photo), Pied-billed Grebes, Mourning and Common Ground Doves, and others I’m forgetting. I also used the Merlin bird app a couple of times to listen to bird calls. It ID’d a Black Scoter. Those have been spotted before at MINWR, but I wasn’t able to find it to confirm.
Changing the subject#2 : Halloween is next weekend so here’s one more photo from last Monday that fits with the holiday:
Web and Mangrove
Okay – I think that’s a long enough post for today! Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, get out and see some nature. And make some photos!
I might see one or two people fishing whenever I pull into Gator Creek Road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge before dawn. It’s rare to see another photographer there for sunrise, although later in the day on Black Point Wildlife Drive there are often plenty of folks taking photos. On this morning someone else was already out there when I pulled into this spot. They had their camera / tripod set up over on the right (out of the frame in this image). I parked a bit away to give them some space and not interfere with their photography.
Mangroves at dawn
As I set up and starting making images, they headed over with their tripod and camera. I didn’t pay a lot of attention, since I was busy trying to decide on compositions and wanted to capture the light on the clouds before it changed. I figured they just wanted to try a different viewpoint.
They stopped when they got to where I was and started talking about all sorts of things: music, musicians, photographing concerts, what camera I was using, where they lived, where they photographed, etc., etc. I was busy and concentrating on my photography, so a lot of my replies were monosyllabic. As time went on, I continued photographing and they continued talking. I hope I didn’t seem too rude. At one point I even mentioned how much I liked the cloud formations, but they never did make a photo.
There are all sorts of people, and we all have different priorities, but I still don’t understand. This person was motivated to get up very early, pack all their gear and head out for a morning of photography. But then didn’t make photos of a wonderful scene taking place all around us. Maybe they’d already got a lot of great photos before I arrived. But if it was me, I’d have kept shooting.
It doesn’t take very long to forget about some things. Good habits lapse and bad ones take over quickly.
I hadn’t been out photographing in about three weeks and was anxious to go last week. So I got up early Wednesday morning and headed over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – one of my favorite spots. Although I managed to come back with some photos I like, all did not go well. Turns out I was out of practice and there were several issues that made me miss shots. So today, I have a few reminders of things not to do. Maybe my mistakes will help someone else.
Morning glow – from Gator Creek Road
I didn’t check the MINWR website before I went. If I had, I would have seen: “The Black Point Wildlife drive will be closed for two weeks for annual maintenance beginning 8/19/21.” Luckily, there are plenty of spots to explore in the refuge, so this wasn’t a critical error. But somewhere else, it could have been. Check the website!
I hadn’t reset my camera / lens. My long zoom has a focus limiter switch. You can choose the full range of focus (2.4m – infinity) or limit it to one of two ranges. I usually keep it set to the 10m – infinity selection which speeds up focus response for birds in flight. I’d used it at home though for a close up (2.4m – 10m) and put it back in the case without reseting it. Then when I pulled it out at MINWR to photograph a distant bird, it wouldn’t focus. Fortunately (unfortunately?) I’ve made this mistake before, and it didn’t take long to correct. But it was confusing and I did miss a shot. Reset your camera and lens to defaults when you put them away.
A lot of the time, I have my camera in my lap so it’s ready to use on short notice. But at one point while driving down Biolab Road, I’d put it in the open case on the seat next to me. Of course, a huge gator picked that time to stroll across the road in front of me. I probably wouldn’t have made the shot even if I’d been ready, but I would’ve had a better chance if the camera had been closer. Keep your camera ready at all times.
I’m really upset at myself about this last one. At some point during the trip I’d set my aperture to a small f-stop to increase my depth of field. And I forgot to change it back to wide open (the default – see above!!!). This slowed my shutter speeds and ruined a few photos due to motion blur that I wish I’d gotten. I usually don’t check my photos all the time, but the instant feedback you can get with digital cameras is wonderful – if you use it. Inspect what you’ve captured every once in a while so you can catch problems.
Morning meal. A 1/125s shutter speed was fine for a still subject.
We live in an extraordinary universe. Nature’s gorgeous creations are all around us. Photography is about sharing a small part of the beauty we each experience with others.
One of those mornings
Scenes worth photographing aren’t only at iconic photo spots. And images from those might be over shared anyway. Go out wherever you are and find inspiration. And make photos. And show us what you’ve seen. The hardest part is getting up and going out.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. If you can, show up for the show, make some photos, and share them!
Hurricane Ida is expected to hit Louisiana today – it’s a very dangerous storm. Be careful out there and please take care of yourselves and each other.
Sometimes when I’m out photographing at dawn, I’ll see someone stop, hop out of their car, make a single photo, then get back in and leave. Will they get a good image? Maybe. But they’d have a better chance if they could invest some time trying different compositions and settings to see what works best.
Brewing Storm: 6:24 am, 20 mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, Blended exposures (2.5 and 0.8s)
On a recent morning at dawn, I photographed a photogenic thunderstorm from the St. Johns River boat ramp on SR 50 for about an hour. As the light changed, I tried different lenses and techniques and I’m pretty happy with the images I came home with.
Sunrise through a thunderhead: 6:52 am, 39 mm, ISO 100, f/11, Blended exposures (1/125 – 1/30s)
I thought you’d like to see these examples from that morning. In each caption, I’ve listed the time I made the photo and the settings I used. Maybe you can take away some ideas for your next dawn photo excursion. If you have any questions or want more details about what I did, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.
A storm across the river: 7:24 am, 160mm, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/320s exposure, 5 frame panorama
The light and colors varied tremendously while I was there. I enjoyed watching them evolve and using different settings / focal lengths to capture the changes and include or isolate parts of the scene.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Be careful out there and please take care of yourselves and each other. And if you can, work a scene!
I suppose we all occasionally struggle with photography – finding something to point our cameras at can be difficult. Other times, it seems easy and images almost make themselves. My last trip to MINWR was like that – I came home with more than a normal number of landscapes I really like.
Across the marsh
I felt like I was really in the “zone”. Every composition I tried looked good to me. And they still looked good when I got home.
Anyway, here they are.
Fun fact: These were made with three different cameras: A Sony full frame, an Olympus Micro Four Thirds, and an iPhone. Can you tell which is which? If you’re interested in the answers, you can click on these to see larger versions (and EXIF data).
Our weather’s been seasonably hot and humid here in Central Florida. We’re very definitely in the dog days of summer. According to Wikipedia, they’re called that because historically they’re associated with the summer-time rise of Sirius (Canis Major – the “Dog Star”) in the night sky.
Anyway, mid-summer isn’t the best time for birds / wildlife but I really wanted to do a bit of photography. So I packed some camera gear and headed out toward Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge at zero dark thirty last Wednesday to see what I could see.
There was a nice view near the entrance to the refuge about 25 minutes before sunrise:
Titusville Marina at dawn
I drove around Gator Creek Road next although there was little activity and I didn’t make any photos.
Black Point Wildlife Drive was a different story. There were a few of our regular resident birds:
And I lucked into a feeding frenzy where Herons and Egrets were “fly fishing” for minows in a small pool of water.
The light was harsh, but it was a great place to practice birds-in-flight photography. They move fast and erratically chasing the fish. Looking through the camera with my right eye while watching the wider scene with my left helped me anticipate the action before I could see it through the lens.
Fly fishing 2
According to the iBird app on my phone, Northern Flickers are here year round, but I don’t spot them very often. When I do they’re usually skittish – this one was no exception. But it decided to fly ahead of me along the road and I followed along slowly at a distance. It finally stopped for a few seconds on the side of a palm tree in some pretty good light and I was able to jump out of the car and make this image.
While I was over there, I went by Veterans Memorial Park to check on the repairs they’ve been doing. The area’s been closed since way back in September 2017 due to damage from Hurricane Irma. It took a while, but now it’s open again and back on my list of favorite sunrise spots!
Sunrise at Veterans Memorial Park
I like going to MINWR in the dog days of summer when it’s quiet. It may not be the greatest time for wildlife, but there’s still plenty to see and photograph. As a bonus there are usually fewer people there too. I had Black Point all to myself for most of my drive – a very special privilege and well worth getting up early for.
I hadn’t been to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge since March. The weather forecast when I got up at zero-dark-thirty last Thursday wasn’t good: Overcast, hot, and probably buggy because of the rain we’ve had recently. I went anyway and on the drive over, the clouds were pretty thick. I stopped at a favorite spot and made a few photos. The light was mostly dull, but there was a minute or so when the clouds lit up.
A marvelous morning after all: Gator Creek Road panorama
There wasn’t much wildlife along Gator Creek Road, but the sun was back-lighting some flowers along the water. I tried a few photos, hoping to catch the early morning colors in the background. The shadows of the stamen and stigma on the flower petal were a nice bonus!
Wild flower 1: Morning-Glory(?)
The hot summer months aren’t the best time to see wildlife here in Central Florida and I didn’t spot much on Black Point Wildlife Drive, either. But I made a few photos of our colorful residents. The clouds made for diffuse light and soft shadows, although to get a good exposure, my ISO settings were running between 3200 and 6400. A little noise / grain in an image is better than no image, right?
There were lovely patches of wild flowers on Black Point too:
Wild Flower 2
I normally see several Manatees at the Bairs Cove boat ramp. On Thursday I only got a brief glimpse of a single one. There’ve been reports of a lot of Manatee deaths this year. I wonder if that’s why. Anyway, while looking for them I found this place by the canal that I’d never noticed before. I liked the viewpoint.
By the boat ramp
Driving home Thursday morning my thoughts were mixed. I’d enjoyed getting out and seeing the refuge again, but I wasn’t sure I’d gotten any good photos. Most of what I remembered seeing in the view finder didn’t seem that great. When I started looking at them on the computer, I was happy with how they turned out. There’s something about the light that morning that appeals to me.
You can’t know how a photo trip will turn out before you go. You can’t even be sure how much you’ll like the photos before you go through them.
If it feels like you’re just going through the motions, go ahead and do your best. You might be surprised by the results.
Hindsight could be another name for photography. Your photos let you perceive the significance and nature of a trip after it’s over.
In hindsight, my morning was marvelous after all.
Header image: A panorama of the wetland across the road from the Black Point exit.
By the way, Happy Father’s Day to all Dad’s out there! Many thanks for everything you do to make the world a better place.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Take care of yourselves and each other. And when you can, make some photos!