I spotted this large fish (~2 1/2 feet long) resting near the shore. My long lens was stowed in my backpack and I knew it wouldn’t stay there long, so I quickly made a photo with my IR camera. If you click through to the larger version on Flickr, you can better see the small minnows swimming nearby.
Dragonflies are out and about. This is the first time I’ve noticed them this year.
And finally, here’s a photo of my walking companion. This bird joined me for a bit on my stroll around the park.
The park offers free Tram Tours on weekends – check their site for details. I much prefer to walk so I can pause and photograph any time I want and get a little exercise too.
Thanks for stopping by the blog. Now – go make some photos!
It’s also a popular place – there’s a lot to see and a lot of people looking. Kevin M. and I went over last Saturday and here are some highlights from our visit.
Great Horned Owl parent and chick
There’s been a Great Horned Owl nest along the entrance road for several years. It’s marked off with tape and signs and there’s usually a crowd observing so you can’t miss it. The image above is a composite. They didn’t both look toward me at the same time, so I combined two exposures in Photoshop. The chick seems pretty large. I’m guessing it must be several weeks old. They grow fast – go over soon if you want to see it before it fledges.
This hawk startled several birds (and me) when it launched towards a coot on the surface of the canal by Marsh Rabbit Run. It missed and then stayed in this tree for a bit before moving on. I almost didn’t make the photo, since at first glance, it looked like a Red-shoulder Hawk to me. But luckily someone nearby said “That’s a nice Cooper’s”, which is a new life bird for me. It’s young so the colors aren’t typical for an adult, but the eyes give it away.
I also tried one of the features in the new firmware for the Olympus E-M1 MII camera: Pro Capture (hi) mode with the PL 100 – 400 lens. I wanted to catch the bird as it launched off the branch. It didn’t quite work because hi speed Pro Capture freezes focus after the first shot. It took off at an angle toward the camera and the bird isn’t sharp in the frame. Oh well, another thing to add to my ‘try again’ list.
Pig and People
This wild pig was foraging along the Heron Hideout path. It’s pretty small, seemed very calm and used to all the curious people, and minded its own business. But I’d still be cautious around it.
Gray Catbird – infrared, monochrome
I forgot the spare battery for my main camera back in the car and of course it died on our hike just after the hawk photo. But I also had my IR camera with me with plenty of battery left. So I switched my long lens over to it and kept shooting. We spotted this Gray Catbird in the bushes, and I like the way the bird stands out from the vegetation in IR converted to B&W.
Cedar Waxwing @ Circle B (Photo by Kevin McKinney, used with permission)
We found a flock of Cedar Waxwings in the branches above the path – but my photos of them are in infrared too. Unlike me, Kevin was prepared and he was kind enough to let me use one of his from the day for this post.
Since it’s a long drive, we got lazy and slept in – so no sunrise images. I did make some infrared landscapes there and I’m planning to use them in a future post, so check back for that. Maybe I’ll include the IR Waxwings too.
We usually walk down Alligator Alley but it’s closed. The gators are apparently active in that area although we didn’t spot any. We did spot Painted Buntings, Indigo Buntings, a Barred Owl, Blue Wing Teals, Double Crested Cormorants, Anhingas, American Coots and chicks, a Purple Gallinule, the usual Herons and Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Warblers, Bald Eagles, Ospreys, turtles, and more. Like I said – a lot to see!
Editors note: Today we have another post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. She’s back in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but this time on Maui – enjoy!
I recently took the trip of a lifetime to Maui during whale watching season. While I’ve been fortunate enough to whale watch in places like Alaska, Channel Islands National Park and Maine, I have never seen anything like the whales in Maui in February. Each year around December/January through about March/April, North Pacific Humpback Whales migrate down from Alaska (bye, Monette!) to Hawaii to mate, give birth, and let their babies bulk up before the long journey back north. These whales love the waters around Maui, and I’ve never been to a place where you can sit on the beach or at a restaurant on the coast and watch these amazing creatures from land.
Tails from Maui
But you can get an even better view from the water! I did two whale watching cruises, both with the Pacific Whale Foundation. I’d highly recommend any cruise with PWF (and check out their amazing gift shop while you’re there!), because the money from your cruise goes to protect our oceans through research, education and conservation programs. While all of their cruises are great experiences, if you have the time and the money and are an early bird like me, your best option is to go on a smaller boat as early in the day as possible. We took the larger Ocean Discovery on a Saturday afternoon at 2 pm and there was plenty of whale watching, but it was nothing like the intimate photo safari experience on Sunday morning at 7 am aboard the Ocean Spirit catamaran. With a smaller, quieter boat, we could turn off the engine when we got 100 yards away from the whales, and sometimes they would come closer to us. This humpback whale was curious and “spy hopped” right by our boat, poking its head up to check us out!
Humpback Whale “Spy Hopping”
We were lucky to see many mom and baby pairs, which are easy to spot when you know what to look for: more frequent and smaller blows (the babies need to breathe a lot more often than the grownups), and a floating protective Mom beside them (Mom is always nearby!).
Baby (left) and Mom (right) Humpback Whales
I really enjoyed the photo ops on this whale watch. There was a photographer on board if you had any questions, and I was able to see and photograph whales in a way I never had before. Fun fact – did you know Humpback Whales (and all baleen whales) have two blowholes side by side (kind of like a human nose) vs. toothed whales that only have one?
Humpback Whale – Two Blows Up!
We also saw Maui by air via a Maverick Helicopter Tour. It’s a lot tougher to get good photos from a helo, but it was really amazing to see whales from such a different perspective! Below, a mom and baby (on the right) are “escorted” by a male (not the baby’s daddy!).
Humpback Whales by Air: (From right to Left) Mom, Baby, and Male Escort
Editors note 2: Thanks again MK – it was wonderful to read about your trip and see your photos. Hawaii is still on my bucket list!Also readers, if you’re going to visit, you might want to take a look at the Hawaii category on my on-line friend Jeff Stamer’s blog. He’s been there several times and has some amazing photos and tips.
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!
We organized a photo expedition to Viera Wetlands yesterday. I went with Kevin K., Kevin M., and Tom M. We tried a new sunrise location, Alan Shepard Park, right on the beach in Cocoa where SR 520 ends. Even though we got blocked by a train stuck on the tracks and a closed parking lot, we made it in time for the show. I was also worried that there wouldn’t be much color, but Mother Nature rewarded our efforts.
On the beach
There were a lot of shore birds on the beach with us. I have several more images to process with them in the foreground.
Our next stop was the wetlands, and this trip demonstrated the advantages of having extra eyeballs to help search for things. We went right by this Bittern until Tom saw it and got us to stop. They’re pretty reliable in the winter at Viera, but they’re hard to see sometimes. Their standard behavior is to freeze in the grass / reeds and try to blend in. They don’t spook very easy, so you can get fairly close without bothering them.
American Bittern in the grass
A little further on, Kevin M. called out a Snipe he spotted. It was on the opposite side of the car, so I got out quietly and snuck around. It took me a bit to see it even though it was only a few feet away. This one was pretty calm and let us photograph for several minutes. They’re small and usually skittish. And they fly erratically, so they’re usually hard to photograph. Again, though they seem to like to stop by Viera in the winter.
Wilson’s Snipe in the grass
Belted Kingfishers are also common around Florida in the winter. If you’ve ever seen one of these, you know how hard it can be to photograph them. You’ll see them perched on a branch and as soon as you try to get closer or even point your lens toward them, they take off and move further away. This one was more tolerant than usual and I was able to get set for it to leave. But I was over conservative with my zoom and left too much room in the frame. I did catch it, and even though it’s a little small, it’s one of my best flight shots of one. But I’ll have to keep trying.
Belted Kingfisher in flight
We spotted Red-winged Blackbirds, Black Crowned Night Herons, Little Blue Herons, Tri-colored Herons, Green Herons, Egrets, a hawk, Grebes, Morehens, a juvenile Purple Galinule, and Ring Necked Ducks. And Kevin M. also called out a Ruddy Duck – which was a life bird for me but in very poor light, so I won’t post it here. Kevin K. was the first to spot a herd of deer (well four of them at least) – which I don’t see very often there. Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, Sand Hill Cranes, and Cormorants are all nesting now too.
So it was a marvelous morning. Great weather, scenery, bird watching, photography, and friends. Much better than sleeping in!
Please click on the images above to see a larger version on Flickr. And you can see many more of my photos from Viera Wetlands in this Flickr album.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
First an announcement: If you’re here because you didn’t get an email from the blog this week, please see the very last bullet at the bottom of this post.
And for those interested, you can read much more about other blog tech details / status / news following the Merritt Island photo update.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Late Thursday, Kevin K. asked if I wanted to go photographing Friday morning. I did and we decided to meet early and visit Merritt Island. We arrived way before sunrise, so we stopped first at the Titusville Municipal Marina for a quick photo in the dark.
Pre-dawn at the marina – Titusville. Olympus high res mode, two frame panorama
Next we went by the fishing pier on the North west side of the causeway. From there you can shoot through the bridge toward sunrise. I liked the viewpoint, but I wish the sunrise color had been better.
Dawn through the bridge. Olympus high res mode, two frame panorama
After this we headed to Black Point Wildlife Drive. There were a lot of birds there and we ended up going around twice. I was worried that it would be dull and overcast, but we actually had some very pretty light for most of the morning.
Roseate Spoonbil feeding in the shallows
Hooded Merganser (female)
We also saw (among others): American Robins, Great snowy and Reddish Egrets, Great Blue and Tri-Colored Herons, White and Glossy Ibis, Norther Shoveler and Pintail ducks, Belted Kingfishers, gulls, terns, Osprey, Vultures, and more. We were hoping to spot some White Pelicans, but didn’t we couldn’t find any on this trip.
Enough of the pleasant content. Now on to the agonizing stuff.
Blog status / news
It’s been a very tough week at Central Florida Photo Ops HQ. Our head of tech support (me) along with Google search, and two different hosting provider customer support lines struggled mightily to get the blog transferred and back up and running again.
There’s good and bad news. Good news: The blog is mostly back up. And the head of tech support probably won’t get fired since there’s no one to replace him. Bad news: He’s not getting a raise anytime soon.
I started looking for a new hosting provider over the Christmas break since my agreement with GoDaddy is almost up . My blog’s been responding a little slow and GoDaddy’s renewal fees and their SSL (https) offerings were expensive. And even though Bob Parsons is no longer CEO, there’s the whole GoDaddy Elephant thing.
I did some online research and discovered that inMotion hosting is highly rated and has some inexpensive plans. Since this is a non-commercial, personal blog, I don’t feel I need a high end hosting plan and decided to go with them.
It was very easy to open an account and purchase their WPS500S plan. The rest of the process wasn’t as easy. Here are some of the issues I ran into:
Since I purchased a WordPress specific hosting plan, I thought InMotion would automatically install WordPress for me. They didn’t. I could have installed it myself through their cPanel interface, but I wasn’t familiar enough with their software and what to expect. A call to their tech support took care of this right away.
Next, I requested that InMotion transfer my content from GoDaddy. I gave them my login credentials, but for some reason they couldn’t access the old account. I ended up doing this myself by FTPing into GoDaddy and copying my content files first to my computer (for backup) and then uploading them to InMotion.
Next I initiated the domain transfer to move edrosack.com from GoDaddy servers to inMotion servers. This was probably a timing mistake (see the bullet below about follower migration). The domain transfer happened relatively quickly and I could see the new edrosack.com on the web.
Next I turned on inMotion’s included SSL capability. This was easy and I now have an https connection. My blog readers don’t do any business through my site and don’t sign in, so this probably isn’t strictly necessary for them. But Google factors this into search rankings so it’s good to have.
I then went about configuring WordPress to make it match the old installation. I had lots of problems with the Jetpack plugin. It turns out that InMotion enables the Mod Security firewall by default and the WPS500 hosting plan doesn’t allow customizing this. Jetpack relies on access to the site xmlrpc file to work and Mod Security blocks this by default. I was able to resolve this with another call to InMotion tech support.
Since I was now worried about security on the new site, I spent some time installing firewall / security plugins and testing / configuring them. In the process, I managed to lock myself out of edrosack.com at least once. Fortunately, I could still get to the site file system so I could nuke the security software and then reinstall / reconfigure it. Whew! It would have been embarrassing to have to call inMotion on my second day with them to get that fixed.
Most of my content transferred ok, but I couldn’t get the NexGen gallery plugin to display my Portfolio without re-setting it and starting over. In the end, I decided to use the gallery provisions included with Jetpack and re-did my portfolio pages. I needed to update them anyway and now they reflect some of my more recent work. Please check them out if you get a chance!
And late on Saturday as I was finally getting things fixed, my cable internet here at home went down for the first time in months! This stuff is just too hard!
The final problem (that I know of) and one that I haven’t resolved yet is that since I couldn’t connect WordPress.com to both my old and new providers at the same time, I was unable to use Jetpack’s subscriber migration tool. So for now, I’m waiting on Jetpack to respond to a support request. Once I hear from them, I’ll know how to proceed. If they can’t re-instate my subscribers, I’ll have to send out an email and request that folks re-subscribe. Stay tuned on this and I’ll let you know what happens.
Well, that’s much longer than a normal blog post, so I’ll sign off now.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos! And if you’re having issues with your server, don’t call me!
Editors note: Today we have another wonderful post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. Her report includes beautifully surreal landscape images as well as excellent wildlife watching tips and photographs. It’s well worth clicking the link at the end to view the rest of her photos. Enjoy!
In late September, I had the pleasure of visiting Monette and Jesse in Anchorage, AK for Emergency Birthday Six (our annual tradition of a last-minute birthday adventure). It was the second-to-last weekend of the tourist season, so we were excited to find a company still doing day cruises: Phillips Cruises & Tours 26 Glacier Cruise out of Whittier, Alaska.
To get from Anchorage to Whittier (population 214 people), we drove along the Seward Highway, one of my absolute favorite views ever. We saw two Beluga Whales fishing along the shore at Beluga Point – and reported them to the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project! I’ve looked for the Belugas every time I drive along this beautiful road, and this was my first time finally seeing them (unfortunately the only picture I have is the memory in my mind). From Beluga Point, give yourself plenty of time to get through the 2.5 mile Whittier Tunnel – the longest highway tunnel in North America!
View from Seward Highway
The 26 Glacier Cruise, as promised, delivered many stunning glacier views. Due to weather, we took an alternate route that the on-board Park Ranger told us he had only done several times in his career and got up close to some amazing glaciers.
View from Glacier Cruise
While the first few hours of the cruise was mostly scenic views, we began to see much more wildlife towards the end of the cruise including Sea Otters, Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, and this Seal floating by on an iceberg.
Along for the Ride
But my breath was taken away in the last 30 minutes, when we were on our way back to shore, and the captain spotted a pair of Orca Whales! It’s always magical seeing these friends in the wild.
Male and Female Orca Whale Couple
I can’t wait to go visit Monette and Jesse again – in addition to being great friends, they live in an absolutely beautiful state, and I always enjoy exploring Alaska with them!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. More photos can be found in the album here. Now – go be amazed by wildlife and make some photos!
Here are a few photos from a scouting trip to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge last Thursday. I wanted to see how it was doing in the wake of Hurricane Irma and my shutter finger was itchy. Some things didn’t fare too well:
Wreck at Markers 1 and 2 – on the northwest side of the Max Brewer Causeway
I drove over on SR 46 from Winter Springs and the road was clear the entire way. Although the water’s very high in some locations (especially near the St. Johns River), it doesn’t reach the road.
I made these next three images standing in the same spot near the Bairs Cove boat ramp on Haulover Canal. It’s amazing how reliable a place this is to see wildlife. I almost always find at least these three species when I go there and I was glad to see them still around after the storm.
They’ve finished the Haulover Canal Bridge repairs so it’s open now. I need to go back there and kayak again. It is going to cool off soon I hope!
There were a few shore birds along the causeway. I couldn’t check out the wildlife in two of my favorite areas (Black Point and Gator Creek) since they’re closed due to hurricane damage. I don’t know when they’ll reopen – you can find out the current status at this webpage: https://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147578811
For everyone that ended up on this page after searching for math answers or song intros, I’m sorry about the title. I know it’s bad for Search Engine Optimization, but I couldn’t resist. I only wish I’d found a group of four somethings to photograph too.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
A few more photos from our trip late last month along with some post hurricane(s) status in the area…
Watching the sun set in Key West. Sunset is a big attraction down there. This view is from the Hyatt Centric, where we stayed. They opened again on 22 September but say that “some amenities are temporarily limited or unavailable”. We’ve heard the marina where I made this photo is “gone”.Injured Loggerhead – Staff members treat an injured Loggerhead Sea Turtle at the Turtle Hospital on Marathon. Their website (www.turtlehospital.org) says the facility and staff made it through Hurricane Irma OK, but there’s extensive damage all over Marathon.Key West: Fort Zachary Taylor Fortress Interior. Their website says they’re closed until further notice with no info on how much damage they suffered.
Key West Street Scenes: Sloppy Joe’s Bar first opened the day Prohibition ended. Ernest Hemingway was a favorite patron. Their website says they’re open for business.
One of the people who run the snorkel boat trips at Bahia Honda has a YouTube channel: “Livin’ the Keys Life” and he’s posting info about Bahia Honda and Marathon. The damage there looks pretty bad. I imagine it will be a while before it re-opens.
As far as locations around Central Florida, please check them before you go too. For example Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is reporting lots of road closures due to hurricane damage (https://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147578811) while Orlando Wetlands Park says they’re open for public use (http://www.cityoforlando.net/wetlands/). And Lynn and I drove over the Lake Jesup bridge again today and the sunflower fields are still flooding. We saw a few blooms on high ground close to the road, but we’ll have to wait until next year on these.
You can check on other parks at the Florida State Park storm information web page: https://www.floridastateparks.org/content/storm-information.
Tourism is a huge part of the economy in Florida and especially in the Keys. One way you can help them recover is by visiting. Just make sure they’re ready before you go, and they’ll be very glad to see you.
This morning, we’re waiting to see what Hurricane Irma is going to do and it looks like it might pass directly over Bahia Honda State Park as a Cat 4 or Cat 5 storm. It’s hard to imagine the damage that could result.
Lynn and I returned from the Florida Keys a week ago. We spent a couple of days in Key West and then were lucky enough to stay in one of the 6 cabins at Bahia Honda State Park for 3 more days. They’re built on stilts but even so are only about 10 -15 feet above the ocean. And we felt them swaying at times while we were there – even in good weather.
The cabins are on the right side of the overseas highway as you head down to the keys. They’re furnished with everything you need for a great Florida vacation. And the location on a beautiful lagoon is wonderful. These next three photos were all made on the patio, just a few steps from the cabin door:
Loggerhead Sea Turtle – The ranger told us that turtles, dolphin, and tarpon like the lagoon because it’s so quiet and protected. We’d see one or more of Loggerheads from the cabin porch almost every time we stepped out to look. We also saw Tarpon rolling on the surface a few times and maybe a dolphin or two.
Sunset Fishing – You can fish in the lagoon by the cabins, but other water activity isn’t allowed. We often saw campers fishing there.
Another view from the cabin porch. The skies at Bahia Honda are some of the darkest in Florida. Lynn and I got up at about 1:30am on our first night. The moon had set and we had a stunning view of this part of the Milky Way, right from the patio. And the bugs weren’t biting too much!
The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is about 8 miles southwest of Bahia Honda and snorkeling trips leave for the reef twice a day. It was a relaxing swim – the water temperature was in the high 80’s, which can cause storms to strengthen.
Looe Key Sergeant majors and others – The visibility wasn’t very good the day were were there, but the number of fish we saw was still impressive.
There are also 72 campsites in the Park. Many of them are in awesome locations too.
Between the bridges – This is at sunset, between the old abandoned bridge on the left and the new one on the right. You can see some of the lovely Bahia Honda campsites on the left side of the frame.
Lynn and I thought of this visit to Bahia Honda as a “scouting trip”. Based on what we saw, we definitely want to go back.
To everyone in Irma’s path and to everyone impacted by Harvey: We’re thinking of you.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – stay safe in the storm!