Thursday, March 25, 2010

Birding In Florida - Part 2

Viera Wetlands, The Everglades NP, & Fort De Soto Park
(Continued from Part -1 )

After Merritt Island, we headed down to Viera Wetlands, which is about 40 minutes south, off I-95.

The goal there was caracaras.  We had visited the place on a couple prior occasions but never seen them.  We were joined there by another friend, Klaus Peter and his friend Donnie who had met us at Merritt Island.  And just by chance we also bumped into fellow blogger Brad Myers who was on vacation from Pennsylvania (what a small world).   It's difficult to get any keeper shots of wading birds at Viera because they do not allow people to shoot from the edge of the water, so it's difficult to get low enough to create a nice blurred background.   Although most of the time nobody will catch you if you break the rules.

There are usually good possibilities for nesting birds and some occasional flyers.  I made a fair amount of images of great blue herons, and the two shown above are my favorites.  [click any image to enlarge]

We finally saw a caracara, but it landed very high in a pine tree, too far away for any photo worth showing here.  But a few minutes later a juvenile bird flew past us and eventually perched on a fence post.   I hate having a fence post in the photos but sometimes you just take what you can get.  Having not yet gotten images of his species, we took a few shots and then worked in closer to try to get better ones.  

After finishing with the caracara, we felt we had gotten what we came for, so we headed to our next planned stop.  We had virtually no luck at Orlando Wetlands, Circle B Preserve, and Corkscrew.   The water level at Corkscrew was so high that there were no birds.  After spending an afternoon there, we elected to make a run down to the Everglades because the folks at Corkscrew told us it had lots of birds. 

The images below are from Shark Valley in the Everglades National Park.   

This anhinga was working the canal and repeatedly came up with minnows.  It was a challenge to try and get him in the photo before the fish was gone.   I snapped this one just in time.  The same anhinga is seen below with a bigger catch.   It seems pretty amazing to me that a bird this size can swallow a fish as big as this one all in one gulp.

Another stop we made was the north beach at Fort De Soto Park.  It felt really strange to arrive there to find the parking lot empty, even in the middle of spring break.  Since the weather turned too cold for swimming and partying on the beach, the college kids had apparently resorted to indoor partying and we had the whole place to ourselves.  There were literally 4 cars in the parking lot when we pulled up.  

About the only thing I saw there was a pair of oystercatchers.  They were pretty skiddish but eventually I managed toget close enough to get some photos.    This is another species that I had been wanting to photograph, so I was glad to see them.

All and all, this was a good trip. It would have been even better if we had seen more birds, but the cool weather and the combination of high water at Corkscrew made the birds pretty scarce. Ironically I still manged to photograph 3 new species and get some improved images of several more. One bird I have still not properly photographed is a swallowtail kite. I saw a few of them on this trip, but struck out every time. Either they were too far off or obstructed in flight by tree branches above me.   I will close this post with the sunset over the north beach at Fort De Soto Park.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Birding in Florida - Part 1

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Last week my friend Ken Conger was planning to visit so we could photograph the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.  Ken has been wanting to see a launch for some time, so I am bummed (and surely so is he) that the launch has been delayed until at least April 5th.   We decided to spend the time visiting some wildlife sanctuaries instead, so we set out a plan based on some target species we both wished to photograph.   We started out at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where we had hoped to photograph skimmers and reddish egrets.   There was an abundance of roseatte spoonbills there also, which is one of Ken's favorite species.   

I had for a long time wanted to capture a photograph such as the one above, and found it challening to do, since a bit of luck is involved in finding a place to shoot where the birds are likely to fly past in close proximity.   You can see a closer look at the beak action in the water in the image crop immediately above.  [click on any image to enlarge]

While in the wildlife refuge, I was pleased to  have the opportunity to meet up with up with fellow birder Rod Ostoski , whom I had gotten to know through email the last few years, but had never actually met.  Rod showed Ken and me some good places to watch for skimmers, and I'm pretty sure I would not have gotten the skimmer shots posted here without his direction.   Rod is probably best known for has amazing images of the space shuttle.  You can see them, as well as many bird images on his website linked above.  It was Rod who helped me out with some initial camera settings for photographing the space shuttle launches on several attempts I have made in the past.

One of my favorite images from this trip was a great blue heron that we sort of happened upon when we rounded a bend on Biolab Road.  I shot the image at left from the car, fearing that the bird would fly if I tried to get out.   This guy was in perfect light on smooth water, and I was able to fill the frame with the 100-400 lens I had on my 40d backup rig in the front seat.

I made a very similar image of a tricolor heron, although the bird was not as close as the great blue and had to be cropped.  The light and reflection looked amazing, and I patiently waited for the bird to turn into the soft early morning sunlight before taking this shot.   I already have lots of images of tricolor herons, but none that I remember in water like this one.

One species I had hoped to see is a white morph reddish egret.  Unfortunately I did not see one all week, but did have the opportunity to photograph the reddish egret shown below as it fished along the shoreline.

The day would not be complete without some flyers, so I have included a few below.  There were an abundance of white ibises and roseatte spoonbills.
CLICK HERE  to continue to Part - 2.

You can also check out my Birds in Flight  gallery here.