Editor’s note: First things first: We’re safe here in Central Florida and came through our brush with Hurricane Dorian with very little damage, although people are still worried about possible future flooding from all the rain – especially along the St. Johns river. Other places weren’t as fortunate as we are. The news from The Bahamas is horrific and some locations along the US east coast have severe impacts too. I hope recovery efforts are swift and thorough.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge announced they were re-opening on Friday (9/6/19) although BioLab Road and BioLab boat ramp were damaged and are closed for now. Kevin M. and I decided to ride over on Saturday morning and explore a bit. Here are some photos from the visit.
There were several Ospreys fishing along the sunrise side of the entrance and we stopped to watch. I caught this one very close to the rising sun but unfortunately clipped a small part of its wing. I was shooting in continuous mode though, so I was able to make this composite image using a separate frame to fill in the missing bit.
Wood Stork portrait
For some reason, I haven’t made / posted a Wood Stork photo in a while. There were three or four hanging out at Parrish Park as we left. They’re very tolerant of people (the folks fishing must give them handouts) and it posed quietly while I made this close-up portrait. Some folks might not think they’re handsome, but I like their rugged good looks. They have a lot of character and seem to own their unique style!
Perched Osprey – watching us from a dead tree branch on Black Point Wildlife Drive
Black-crowned Night-Heron. Not a great photo, but I don’t see Night-Herons very often, so I’ll include it.
In general, the conditions at MINWR are pretty good. The water is high, and wildlife is a bit scarce, but that’s not unusual for this time of year. It’ll cool off soon and we can look forward to lots of birds visiting in the fall and winter.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
One of the first birds we watched was a Redish Egret fishing close to shore. It’s great fun to see these birds dance and pounce.
Reddish Egret and Minnow
I had the Olympus E-M1 Mark II with me and practiced with the “Pro Capture” mode (I brought the right lens this time). This really helps you catch a decisive moment – it’s almost cheating. You’d better have a large card in your camera and time to go through all the images, though. I used low-speed and still had way too many frames. Here’s one example:
Wood Stork and Minnow
There were a huge number of White Pelicans and they treated us to “air ballet shows” all morning.
Several (3 or more?) large fish (carp?) swimming in the canal near the road. These were about two feet long.
And there were more gators visible than usual. They look well fed – perhaps they’ve been after those large fish. These monsters stay so still that you can take your time and make a stitched panorama of them. Unless they’re chasing you 🙂
We also spotted Belted Kingfishers, a Bald Eagle, Osprey, several varieties of duck, a wild pig, and many other interesting things.
We all love our Moms. They love us too, feed us, protect us, teach us, and make sure we go out into the world ready for all its challenges.
Bird Moms do the same. In celebration of all Mothers everywhere, here are three recent photos of bird Moms raising their young.
Great Egret Mom feeding chicks – That’s a large chunk of sushi – those baby birds will be full if they eat all that!
Common Gallinule Mom and Chicks – These hatch ready to swim. Mom protectively takes them around the local pond, very careful to avoid gators lurking nearby.
Wood Stork Mom and chicks
These photos were all made this year at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida. Wild birds nest there above the Alligator breeding marsh, where the gators keep many natural predators away from the nests. Spring is a wonderful time to see all the action.
I had a delightful visit to Gatorland yesterday morning. Tom M. and Jim B. were also there. I started following Jim’s blog (sorry, no longer available) years ago and we’ve been web friends for a while. I’m happy I finally got to meet him in person!
Anhinga gathering nest material
The nesting season is going full blast now, and this gives everyone a chance to see and photograph wild birds in breeding colors doing nesting season behaviors. Quite an opportunity!
We saw Anhingas, Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, Cormorants, Great Egrets, Common Gallinules, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, and Woodstorks all in various stages of breeding. Little ones in the nest are quite common and some of the baby Great Egrets have grown into “teenagers” already and will be fledging shortly.
Nesting Double-crested Cormorant – Can you tell where this bird gets its name?
I’ll be with you in a moment just as soon as my feathers dry… – This Wood Stork was soaking in the morning sun
Keep an eye out for backlit birds – they can also be beautiful.
Great Glowing Egret
Gatorland is an exceptional place to practice your “birds-in-flight” skills. Patient observation lets you figure out movement patterns and get ready. I waited several minutes with my camera in “BIF” mode (high shutter speed, continuous auto focus) until this Tri-Colored took off. I didn’t expect it to grab a little fish on the way, but I was glad it did!
Breakfast to go – A Tri-colored Heron scoops up a minnow on the fly
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. If you haven’t been to Gatorland yet, go. And if you haven’t checked out Jim’s blog (sorry, no longer available) yet, go do that too. Then – go make some photos!
Once again, it’s that time of year: The Gatorland photography pass season ends soon – so if you want to get in early at 7:30am, you’ll have to hurry. After June 17th, they’re only open during regular hours.
A juvenile Tri-colored Heron, (with a typical “hair-do”). This one was waiting for Mom or Dad to return with some food.
Great Egrets start the year off, but this late, most of their eggs have hatched and the chicks have grown and fledged into nice looking juveniles. When I was there this week with Tom M., Wood Storks, Anhingas, Snowy Egrets, and Tri-colored Herons were still raising chicks and tending to nests.
Wood Stork – Bringing a branch back to Momma.
Several of the Wood Storks had found an abandoned Cormorant nest and were stealing branches from it. This one made several trips!
Cattle Egrets are taking over the starring roles and are busy attracting mates, building nests, and breeding.
Cattle Egret – posing in breeding colors
This was probably my last visit to Gatorland for a while but I’m looking forward to returning next year. It’s a wonderful place to get close access to a number of Florida bird species. I’ve posted a great many photos from there in this set on Flickr. You can read Central Florida Photo Ops posts about Gatorland at this link and posts about the St. Augustine Alligator Farm at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos!
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 email@example.com 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.
I’m going to depart from my usual practice of one subject per post and include three different ones in today’s entry.
Photos and information on a visit to Gatorland, yesterday.
An update on this blog after three years of publication
A political comment
Feel free to read the portion you’re interested in, or indulge me and look at all three.
1. Gatorland May Day Update
If you haven’t yet visited Gatorland this year, now is still a great time. Yesterday morning, I decided to drive down there to see how the rookery is progressing through nesting season. We’ve had a cold winter in Florida and as a result, the birds are about a month behind the normal schedule. The last time I visited (in March), it was mostly the great egrets building nests, courting, and sitting on eggs. Yesterday the Great Egrets were still very active (many with large chicks), but there are also Cattle Egrets, Tri-Colored Herons, Anhingas, and Cormorants all very actively fulfilling the purpose of life.
By the way, have you looked lately at the Gatorland blog that Mike Godwin writes ? He’s posted a report on the current nesting activity (sorry – no longer available), with a lot of detail and photos. There’s also an active Gatorland Flickr group and looking at the photos posted there on any given day can give you a real good idea of what’s going on.
Here’s some of what I saw yesterday:
Pair of Great Egret chicks in nest: You can get an idea of how far along the Great Egrets are by the size of this cute pair.
Cattle Egret: This one was hiding in the brush, but still posing. The Cattle Egrets seem to be just getting started with a lot of nest-building going on.
Mother Cormorant with just hatched chicks: Not a great photo, but you can see the chicks beside the very protective mother. Their eyes were not yet open and there was another un-hatched egg in the nest, so they had to be only hours old.
Common Moorhen Chick: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a moorhen chick before, but I have to admit I haven’t been paying that much attention to this species. They’re very common in the area.
Wood Storks and chicks on nests: Mike Godwin is a great host at Gatorland. He made sure we knew where these nests were so we could photograph them. There were two right next to each other and they were very crowded and active.
You can click on any of the photos above to view them on Flickr. You can also take a look at my Gatorland set on Flickr for some other photos from yesterday (the last nine in the set) as well as from previous visits.
2. Happy Birthday, Blog!
My first post was on the 4th of May, 2007, so it will be three years old on Tuesday. Not a long time in absolute terms, but more than a lifetime for some in “internet years”.
The blog has morphed a bit since then. Originally it was just a place to share my photos, photo experiences, and talk about photo related ideas. I still do that, but I’ve added a theme around all of this: I try to find interesting places around here to make photographs and then post blog entries including links to information about the places as well as some hints on what’s there and how to photograph it. My hope is that this will be interesting to photo enthusiasts visiting the area as well as people who live here. I know I’ve looked for similar blogs when I travel.
With this one, there are a total of 89 posts so far which is an average of about two per month, although lately I’ve been doing pretty well keeping up with my goal of one post each week. Of these, 45 are tagged “CFL Photo ops”, about photo opportunities in the area.
As near as I can tell from my server logs (and disregarding spam and robots), I seem to modestly successful – at least some people are reading what I write. If I’m interpreting the CyStats log correctly, I have over 100 RSS subscribers, and about 10 – 30 visitors on average each day. They are from multiple countries, which is really nice. The most visitors I’ve had in a single day was close to 200 early this year after Jim Goldstein posted his “best photos of 2009” entry on his blog. Thanks, Jim! The most viewed page is the main page, with the My Favorite Photos of 2009 post coming in second.
The most used browser, by a slim margin is Internet Explorer (~51%), followed by Mozilla, Firefox, Safari, etc. Many people still use IE version 6.0. If that’s you – update! Modern browsers are much more capable and secure.
Recent, frequent external search terms include things like: “focus bracketing”, “gatorland photographers”, “central florida photos”, “orlando bird photography”, “alligator farm orlando”, “orlando photo ops”, “photographing birds in central flordia”, “good area to photograph fl”, “central florida places to photo”, “wildflower photography in florida”, “photographing birds in central florida”, “photographing wildlife in central florida”, and “ed rosack”. I’m pleased that people are finding my blog with those search terms.
Of course, I’m my most loyal reader. I’ve enjoy writing it, but I also really enjoy going back and reading it and looking at the photos. I guess it really is a blog in the sense of a personal journal.
And what’s up with all the weird spam comments? Do they really think I’ll let those through? Would anybody? Why do they keep sending them?
I don’t really have any plans to change the blog going forward. However, I’d really like to figure out how to encourage more genuine comment and interaction. And, I’m always open to your ideas and suggestions. Especially for places around here to visit!
3. Warning – Politics Ahead
Caution – I apologize, but this paragraph is political. It does relate to photography and nature in general. Read at your own risk.
As I wrote down the words in topic one above about witnessing nature in all its glory, I couldn’t help but think a great deal about the gulf coast shoreline and what is beginning to happen there to countless birds, their chicks, and other wildlife from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The impact on people who are continuing to recover from hurricane Katrina will be an additional nightmare still to come. And the news this morning reports that it will eventually reach the east coast of Florida too as the Gulf Stream current spreads the spill.
The scope of this disaster is unprecedented – and it was a remote possibility. We can’t jump to conclusions yet, but complacency and the bottom line during the design of this oil drilling rig sure do seem to be causing great damage. I wonder how many of the decisions that were made in the design were probably financial in nature and not based on the worst case outcome, which by the way is occurring? The platform was either not designed or not built to preclude or handle it.
I also wonder if there are engineering memos or PowerPoint slides somewhere warning of this type of consequence if the design went forward as planned? I wonder how many fail safes in the well shut off valve didn’t fail safe and instead just failed due to shoddy workmanship or poor design? I wonder how the engineers that designed, built, and tested the equipment on that well feel today? I wonder how their management can sleep at night? I wonder how long British Petroleum will take to bring the well leak under control? And I wonder how they will ever undo the damage they’ve done.
So far there are no answers, only questions. And thousands of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico every hour of every day.
The Photography Interest Group elected to return to Viera Wetlands this morning. Once again, it was a very nice visit. The weather was much better than last time. We had clear skies and plenty of light, although the road was chained closed due the recent rains – making it a walking visit only. Walking is better for us anyway.
One thing I definitely wanted to see was the masked duck that had been reported in the paper recently. Apparently, these are very rare in the area – and I’d never seen one. There are a lot of birders coming from as far as 2 hours away to add this one to their life list.
Here’s a few other photos from this morning.
Wood Stork in flight – I like the water drops in his wake.
Limpkin in flight
Pair of Mottled Ducks (?) – I really like the lead duck’s head reflected in the water.
Note: you can click on any of these photos to go to my Flickr photo stream and view a larger version (click on the magnifying glass icon at the top). There’s also links at the end of this entry to the entire set and a slide show version of the photos.
In a “ToDo” post last year, I promised to visit and report on Gatorland and to compare it to the St. Augustine Alligator farm for you. I was finally able to go and this post is the basic review. I’ll follow-up with a comparison to the Alligator Farm shortly. Gatorland is a vintage, Florida, roadside attraction (started in 1949) and has grown into a 110-acre, photographer friendly theme park featuring some great shows with many kinds of animals on display. Although there are a lot of things to do in the park, the two that may attract nature and wildlife photographers more than others are:
The Bird Rookery: Created in 1991 as a natural breeding area for the gators, the 10 acre Breeding Marsh has over 100 adult alligators and is a completely natural environment. It attracts wild birds,which tend to nest above the alligators, since they provide protection against some of the bird predators such as raccoons and snakes.
The bird rookery and breeding marsh
The Swamp Walk: This is located at the southern end of the park and is a self guided tour on a raised wooden walkway through a Cypress Swamp and affords visitors a rare look back into what much of Central Florida looked like before development.
There is also quite a bit for the non-photo family members to do, including shows, a small water park, a petting zoo, and displays of other captive animals.
The gator jumparoo show
Photo hints: Gatorland reinstated its photo pass in 2012. It allows entry at 7:30 and lets you stay inside until dusk. Quite an advantage for bird photography.
Tripod/Monopod : Gatorland is a photographer friendly place. You can bring all of your equipment, including a tripod or monopod and there is ample room to use them as long as you are courteous.
Lenses: Of course, long lenses are a must for most bird photography and they will certainly help you at Gatorland. But since many of the birds are so used to people you can get very close to some of them, so very good shots with not so long lenses are possible.
Wood Stork and Alligator bokeh
Best time to visit : Early February through June (nesting season) where the weather is also not as hot.
Other : Normal hours are 10:00am – 5:00pm. Be sure to ask about Senior Citizen and Florida Resident discounts.
Families will find lots to interest them at Gatorland. It’s a good value in today’s overpriced theme park environment. And photographers will enjoy visiting this park multiple times.
The Photography Interest Group visited Orlando Wetlands Park yesterday and had another nice trip. There was lots to see and the weather was pleasant. We came across this very pretty bird with iridescent feathers and we’re wondering whether it’s a Glossy Ibis or a White-faced Ibis. My vote is that it’s a Glossy because of the dark eyes. A White-faced Ibis should have some red in the eyes. Does anybody reading this know for sure?