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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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 was in Merritt Island Fl. early one morning. My lens was treated to a beautiful sunrise over the Banana River. The Banana River is not a banana though, they just call it that because it’s sort of shaped like a banana. It’s not really a river either, it’s a saltwater lagoon. So it’s not a banana, and it’s not a river, but it’s a really pretty place for a sunrise.
Spring has sprung with an explosion of color, like fireworks on the 4th of July!
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!
I really enjoy foggy mornings. The fog gives the landscape a surreal feeling. A foggy morning seems very quiet and tranquil to me. The fog changes the way everything looks. It’s like you are in a totally different world.
Here are a few of my favorite images from the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge near Deland Florida:
A week in the life a SCBWF photographer
I have spent the past week as a photographer for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. It was a great week for birding! The weather was fantastic! I got the chance to speak with many of the festival attendees. Many of them were from northern parts of the country, caught in the grip of a frigid cold snap, seeing temperatures well below zero! They all agreed it was way better to be birding in Florida. The birds were great as well, I will need to check the festival stats to see how many species were counted at this years festival. I was able to add a few new birds to my short, but growing life list. I’m more of a photographer than a birder, but I’m learning. It was a long and grueling week. My days started well before dawn and ended well past sunset. It took me a whole day of rest to recover! It was well worth the effort, I met lots of great people and took lots of photographs (over 2,600). It’s going to take me a while to get all of the photos ready, but as I do I’m going to share some of them, as well as my experiences here. This years SCBWF was awesome! This is my second year as a festival photographer, I have spent many years prior to that as a festival attendee. I always have a great time at the festival. I hope you will enjoy my thoughts and photos as much as I have enjoyed creating them.