During this years Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival I will be leading a photography field workshop. We will be photographing the A. Max Brewer bridge at night. I will be doing three workshops, Jan 21, Jan 22 and Jan 23. This is one of the many locations on and around the bridge we will be photographing. I hope to see you there!
I recently participated in one of Scott Kelby’s World Wide Photo Walks. Scott Kelby is a photographer who writes and publishes instructional books on Photoshop and Lightroom software. He organizes these photo walks. Photographers from around the world get together and form groups. On the designated day, the groups go to the spot they have chosen and take photographs for two hours. It’s a great way for photographers to share ideas, techniques and have fun. This year there were 1000 groups and 21529 walkers (photographers).
Milton Heiberg is the leader of the group that I joined. Milton is a photographer and photography instructor from Orlando. He also authored several books on photography. I got to know Milton from the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. Milton does several classes and field workshops for the festival. I’m excited to be doing my own photography field workshop on night-time photography, at the 2016 festival in January. Come join me, if you can!
Our group met at the Orlando Wetlands. The Orlando Wetlands is a series of ponds that filter water from the Orlando sewer system. It sounds yucky, I know, but the water is cleaned up before it gets to the ponds. So it’s not really as bad as it sounds. This system not only cleans the water, but it creates a bird paradise.
Our group was concentrating on getting sunrise photos. I was hopefully optimistic about getting a good sunrise. Waking up to rain is never a good sign when you want a good sunrise. Before leaving the house the rain did stop. (It’s Florida, if you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes and it will change.) We met before dawn, had a few words of wisdom from Milton. The group walked in the dark to Milton’s favorite sunrise spot. A myriad of sounds filled the air as we walked, gallinules squawked, frogs and gators croaked, owls hooted, and mosquitoes buzzed. We arrived at the sunrise spot with a still overcast sky, although it seemed to be clearing. Sunrise came and went and no sun. We never did see the sun, but there were enough holes in the clouds that I was able to squeak out a few good photos. Getting out in the field with my camera is always a good thing, no matter what the conditions are. We all had lots of fun, and it was a great day. There is a competition for the photos taken on the walks. I need to pick two photos to enter. So if you could help me pick the two favorites, that would help quite a bit!
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The Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, Where the action is!
2014 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. A field trip to St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park.
The 17th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival (SCBWF) in Titusville Florida, has grown to be the largest birding festival in the country. The festival is attended by people from all over the country as well as from several other countries. Once again this year, I was asked to photograph events at the festival. I always have fun photographing people taking part in festival activities. The SCBWF has something for everybody. Whether you are a beginning birder, someone who just loves getting outdoors, or a seasoned birder, you will find several festival activities to enjoy.
Looking to add that elusive bird to your life list? Sign up for one of the many field trips offered at the festival. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the Florida Scrub-Jay are two birds that many birders would like to add to their life list. A great place to see both of those birds is at the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. If you want to take advantage of this field trip, you will need to wake up early! The bus boards at 4:30 am!
The first stop was the park visitor center to meet our guides and resident experts, Samantha McGee from the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park (SSRPSP) and David Simpson of Birding with David Simpson. Samantha gave us an overview of the park and some information about the birds we would be seeing. The great thing about the SCBWF field trips is not only the very knowledgeable guides that take you right to the birds, but the festival makes special arrangements with the locations to give you VIP access. The SSRPSP doesn’t normally open until 8:00 am. We were there much earlier! Also, we were transported in State Park vehicles to locations in the park that you would otherwise need to see on foot. That saved us a several mile hike.
This field trip leaves so early in the morning, because the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers leave their nest cavities so early in the morning. Samantha is pointing out several tree cavities as we wait for the birds to emerge. It’s worth the wait, as the woodpeckers emerge, they perch on an adjacent tree and showoff for us.
Watching the woodpeckers chasing each other from tree to tree as the sun rises above the horizon. They put on quite a show for us.
Taking time out to photograph a nice Florida landscape.
David Simpson, in the plaid shirt,of Birding with David Simpson helping out with bird identification.
The Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCW) are a highly managed bird. Park biologists keep an eye on all of the RCW’s in the park. Here, Samantha McGee is explaining how they manage the RCW population. The RCW use live, long leaf pines to build their nest cavities. Most other woodpeckers will use any dead tree to make a nest cavity. This makes the RCW a very habitat specific bird. This is why preserving habitats like the SSRPSP is so important! Park biologists have been helping by making nest cavities for the RCWs. It can take over a year for a pair to create their own nest cavity, so they are very happy to move into the man made nest cavities. All of the long leaf pines with nest cavities are marked with a white band around the tree trunk. There are several young birds in the park that have nest cavities ready and waiting. They just need to find their mate, move in, and start their own families. Thanks to Samantha and her colleges, the RCWs here are doing well for now. It is a very fragile situation and could go one way or another at any time.
Peeking through the scrub oaks watching a family of Florida Scrub-Jays. The Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are not the only habitat specific bird that the SSRPSP manages. The Florida Scrub-Jay is another bird that needs a very specific habitat to survive. They will only survive in a scrub oak habitat. The scrub oaks need to be of a certain height and density. If the scrub is too short the birds will not move into the area. If the scrub grows too tall the birds will move out. The health of the scrub habitat is managed by fire. The scrub habitat is burned periodically to maintain the height and density. Scrub-Jays are interesting birds. They work together as a family group to protect each other from predators. The one predator they can’t protect each other from is the loss of their habitat.
Sometimes when you are out in the field birding, you never know what rare or unusual bird you’re going to encounter.
There is no better way to cap off a great day in the field than lunch at the Marsh Landing Restaurant. It was nice listening to everyone’s birding stories. The food was great too! Once you finally make a decision between all of the great things on the menu.
I needed to get a good photo of a red shoulder hawk. I was at the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management area a few weeks ago and I saw a nice one. The hawk was hunting in a location that would make it easy to get a good photo. So when I needed to get a red shoulder, I thought I would return to the TWMA. Hopefully my friend, the red shoulder hawk, would still be there. I knew it was a long shot; things rarely work out the way we want them to. I arrived at the Tosohatchee in the morning to take advantage of the morning light. I drove to the place where the he had been hunting on my previous trip. Unfortunately, he was nowhere to be seen. I drove deeper into the TWMA to maybe find another hawk. I did see a kestrel, but he was too far away to get a good photo. I thought this may be a good time to go back and check on my red shoulder friend. I drove back to his hunting grounds and still no hawk. I still had lots of time, so I thought I would drive around and see what else I might find. I only got a few yards and I saw a pretty swallowtail butterfly on a thistle. I got out of the car and started to photograph the butterfly.
I took quite a few photos when I finally looked around me. There was not just the one butterfly; there were 15 – 20 of them on thistles all around me.
I was having fun with the butterflies when I heard my hawk calling close by. For the longest time I could only hear it calling to its mate. Then I saw it flying over the trees. The hawk was heading toward the area that I had seen him in before. I followed his flight through the trees. I was looking through the trees and I saw him. He landed in a dead tree. The tree that he landed on, although it was in plain sight, it was way too far away to get a good photo. We sat and watched each other for the longest time.
He looked at me and I looked at him. He must not have been totally looking at me. He jumped off of his tree and down to the ground, as if he found something to pounce on. I watched for the longest time, but I never saw him again that day. I failed on this trip to get my hawk photo, but just because you fail at your main objective, that doesn’t mean the whole trip needs to be a failure. Even though I wasn’t able to take any great photos, I still saw lots of cool things and had a great time in the field!
Each day of the festival is capped off with a speaker from the birding world. Most are usually well-known naturalists and biologists who work at different conservancies around the country, but there are also photographers and other ornithologists featured. These lectures are presented in an intimate auditorium on campus that allows easy Q&A and audience participation. I’ve been to many and they are always very entertaining.
The first night’s keynote featured Greg Miller. Back in 1998, Greg did what the birding world calls a “big year.” This is when a birder crisscrosses the country to see as many bird species as possible in a calendar year. Quite the achievement if you can pull it off. Especially since Greg was holding down a full time job at the time. Greg was one of three birders to each get over 700 birds that year! Phew, that’s a lot of birds! It turned out to be a heated competition between the three birders. It made a very interesting story. So interesting in fact, Pulitzer Prize winning author Mark Obmascik wrote a book about it called The Big Year. The book caught the eye of the people at Twentieth Century Fox. They made it into a movie, also called The Big Year. The movie stars Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson as the three birders doing a big year. The Jack Black character was based on Greg Miller and his escapades during his big year. Greg told the festival attendees his amazing and humorous story about doing his big year, having a book written about it, and being involved in the movie. Greg was asked to be a bird consultant for the movie. He was not sure if his consulting duties would entail meeting any of the stars or not. As it turns out, Jack Black had never portrayed an actual person before. So Jack wanted to get to know Greg and they actually did some birding together. Wow, can you imagine birding with Jack Black! Greg tells a very funny story about getting to know Jack. He eventually got to meet Steve Martin and Owen Wilson as well. Greg is a fantastic story teller. He had the audience in stitches as he told them of his big year, well years, as it turned out. I have been attending keynotes at the festival for years and Greg’s story has to be one of the best! If you have not seen the movie The Big Year, I suggest that you run right out now and rent it! It’s a great story and an entertaining movie.
After spending the morning photographing the Turkey Creek Tract field trip, I headed back to the festival. The festival was held at the Titusville Fl. Campus of Brevard Community College. This was the nerve center for all festival activity. I spent each afternoon photographing festival activities around the campus.
The festival hosted many classroom presentations. They covered a wide range of subjects including birding, bird species, bats, butterflies, conservation, reptiles, optics, photography, and travel.
The exhibit area was set up in the large gymnasium on campus and spilled out into the hall way areas. This is where attendees register and pick up their festival badges, where the silent auction was held, and where the evening socials were held. This is also the meeting and departure place for many of the field trips. There are a wide range of vendors that set up their booths in the exhibit area. If you’ve never been to the festival, and want to get a taste of it, and live nearby, this is the place to start! You don’t have to be registered or signed up for anything to stop in and take a look. You may find a location for your next travel or find a craft to take home. You may even start birding!
The Raptor Project puts on several raptor shows each day. There is limited seating on the stage for the show, so you need to arrive early and get a $5.00 ticket for the show at the festival registration desk. Between shows you can go onstage and look at the birds and take some photos.