Today was a beautiful day to watch a rocket launch! This was no ordinary launch. Today SpaceX performed a test launch of the new Falcon Heavy rocket. The SpaceX FH is capable of launching some very heavy things into space. So what heavy thing did the FH lift into space on its maiden voyage? If you’re Elon Musk, you launch your Tesla Roadster into orbit around Mars. Complete with a dummy astronaut (dummy so he says, has anyone seen Elon?) hanging his arm out of the window, blasting David Bowie’s Starman on the stereo.
Rocket watchers from far and wide gathered early to watch this historic launch. I don’t think we got quite to Space Shuttle crowd sizes, but I think it was close. Maybe we should get 45 to review the crowd photos. There were some very relaxed and prepared people in Sandpoint Park. I wanted to get a photo of the huge crowd at Space View Park but there were no parking spaces close by. The Max B Bridge was jam packed. This is my favorite launch viewing site. I like to call it “Titusville’s launch viewing platform.” We had some time to kill before the launch. Due to high winds, the launch was pushed back almost to the end of its 2 ½ hours launch window. After a long wait, the FH ignited its 27 Merlin engines and lifted off of Apollo/Shuttle now SpaceX Falcon Heavy Launch Complex 39A. It was an amazing launch! The 27 Merlin’s really rumbled!
The FH is basically 3 Falcon 9 boosters strapped together. The plan was, to bring all three boosters back to earth, to be reused on another flight. Two of the three boosters had previously flown on F9 missions. The two outside boosters were to land back at KSC. The third booster was going to land on a barge in the Atlantic. It was amazing to see the two boosters bound for return to KSC simultaneously igniting to slow their decent. They ignited a second time and gently landed on target. Once again we heard the rumble of the rocket boosters landing, preceded by sonic booms. The third booster didn’t fare so well. Only one of three engines reignited to slow its decent and it was lost. All in all, a fantastic sight to see and hear. There is nothing like watching a live rocket launch!
Launching a Falcon Heavy, $90 million! Watching live video of a Tesla Roadster with Starman drop top orbiting the earth, PRICELESS!
I was looking at some examples of photographs that were taken at night, using the full moon as the light source. This looked like something that I needed to try. So after many moons of bad weather and bad timing, I finally got a chance to try this technique. You don’t need to have a totally full moon, it can be a few days before or after. You need to check a moon phase chart to see when moon rise will be. Hopefully it will be at a decent hour and not after midnight or later. This particular moon rise was at a good time, right about sunset. Using the moonlight is a lot like using the sunlight. If it is low in the sky, you will get some nice shadows. If it is high in the sky, you will get a more even light, but it’s not as harsh as photographing at noon.
Coincidentally, there was an 11pm rocket launch set for the March full moon. This is great! I can photograph the launch and also try out this moonlight photography thing.
The rocket launch was beautiful! Night launches always are beautiful. This was an Atlas V rocket taking supplies to the International Space Station. The full moon was a big help illuminating the foreground of this image. I like how you can see everyone on the dock with a lit up cellphone. You can see a few stars, but the light from the moon dims all but the brightest.
I had a bit of time to kill before the launch, so I took this photo of the bridge. After the launch, I crossed the bridge to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. This is where I took my midnight landscapes. By this time, the moon was getting pretty high in the sky. It was a very clear night just a few sparse clouds in the distant horizon. A few more clouds would make a very interesting sky, but you take what you get. After you find a nice place to photograph (you will need to scout the area ahead of time) take your time setting up. Your eyes need to adjust to the moonlight. Once they do, you will be amazed at how bright it really is. I was able to work with the camera and walk around without any additional light. Using a flashlight would ruin your night vision and actually make it harder to see. Just be careful that you don’t trip over any alligators.
I was experimenting quite a bit with ISO settings. I settled on ISO 1250 for these images. I will need to do a bit more experimenting to give a solid recommendation. I used f8 and a 6 second shutter speed. I was underexposing a bit. This being my first attempt I did not want to risk overexposing. I think I could have increased the exposure by one stop and still been OK. I had to work the shadows a bit in post. I was able to get more stars in the wider angle image. It looks more like a night photo, the tighter image looks more like it was taken at dusk. The glow on the horizon is not from sunset; it’s the glow of the Titusville city lights. Again the moonlight is overpowering a lot of the stars. If you want a lot of stars you need to photograph on the new moon. You will get the stars, but you will lose the color in the sky and detail in the foreground. You need to keep shutter speed under about 10 seconds to keep the stars from elongating. There is a huge chart to figure this out depending on camera and lens combo, look for the 500 rule.
These photos were taken at midnight, not midday. It’s amazing the colors you can see at night. It’s very eerie being in the marsh at night. The only sounds you hear are the sounds of nature. Wondering what that was that just made a splash in the water? This only adds to the experience.
I came upon this group of sleeping wood storks and spoonbills. I was very careful not to wake them. Every once in a while I could hear one of them ruffling its feathers, but they never moved.
Completing the loop through the salt marsh I couldn’t resist taking another photo of the bridge before heading home. I will need to try this technique a few more times and do some fine tuning. I had a great time photographing my midnight landscapes.
The organizers of the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival expanded the photography offerings for the 2016 festival. One of the photographers that joined the festival this year was Mike Matthews. (click here to see Mikes web site.) Mike conducted an amazing macro workshop with an interesting cast of characters.
Mike brought with him 10 to 15 species of exotic reptiles and amphibians like this very cool three horned chameleon.
He not only brought along some very cool subjects to photograph, he also brought the sets to photograph them in. There was a whole room full of small props and backdrops. Mike would expertly place one of the reptiles in the set then you instantly have a great photograph. Mike enjoys teaching photographers the tricks of the trade. He was very helpful with camera exposure settings as well as lens and flash selections. A well placed drop of water on a lizard’s mouth would create a fantastic image as the lizard licked the drop with its tongue. This was a great workshop! Not only were you able to learn all about the wonderful world of macro photography, but you came away with some world class images. Another one of the many reasons why you need to get your butt to the 2017 SCBWF!
I want to thank Mike for allowing me to follow him around and photograph his workshop. He helped me get some good photos as well as helping his workshop attendees get good photos. I only wish I would have had more time to see some of his other cute little friends.
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Another amazing Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival field trip: The Little-Big Econ State Forest. I was anxious to photograph this field trip; I have not been to this area before. I know Little-Big sounds a bit contradicting, but this is where the Little Econlockhatchee and the Big Econlockhatchee rivers come together, hence Little-Big Econ.
The field trip was led by biologist Lorne Malo from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, wildlife biologist Selena Kiser, Angel and Mariel Abreu with Nature is Awesome Tours. This was my first trip with Loren, he knows this area and its history very well. I have been on other trips with Selena, Angel and Mariel, they are all excellent birders! This is another reason why you need to attend the SCBWF. You could visit this area on your own no problem, but you would not have four expert birders with you. They know the area, they know the birds, they are great at sharing their knowledge with you. SCBWF field trips are a wonderful learning experience. I learn something new on every trip. For instance, on this trip I learned about mistletoe. In Florida not many trees lose their leaves. The ones that do sometimes have several balls of green leaves among their bare branches. I always figured they were some sort of parasitic plant. I learned from Lorne that it is mistletoe and that cedar waxwings like to eat the mistletoe berries.
The Little-Big Econ was beautiful. It was almost like walking through a prehistoric jungle. The mist was rising off of the river. The eerie call of the pileated woodpecker. I was expecting to see a dinosaur at any moment. There were no dinosaurs, but Lorne expertly lead us through the many trails to where we were able to get a good view of an eagles nest. There was an eagle in the nest to boot! We could not see into the nest but the eagle seemed to be tending eggs or maybe very young eaglets. The female eagles are very noticeably larger than the males. This is quite evident when you see them together. This was a large eagle, my guess is that it was the female. I travel light and didn’t have enough lens to get a decent photo of the eagle. Besides the eagle, we saw many types of birds on this trip. The Little-Big Econ is a great place to go birding. Fun was had by all.
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The 2016 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival got off to a beautiful start. I enjoy taking photos for the SCBWF each year. On the first day of the festival there were several field trips planned at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. My plan was to meet up with a few of the field trips and photograph them. The sunrise was stacking up to be a good one, so I found a good spot to photograph it. This particular area is a berm road with water on both sides. I was facing the sunrise; to my back there was a row of mangroves and the other body of water. Just on the other side of the mangroves there was a huge flock of American coots, but I didn’t know that at the time. Shortly after the sun rose above the horizon something spooked the coots. Possibly an eagle looking for a coot breakfast. The huge flock of coots made a frantic dash for the sunrise side of the berm road. They were crashing through the mangroves and stumbling onto the road. Several of them flew into my car! (no one was hurt.) The water dripping off of them as they flew over me made it feel like it was raining. It was quite the sight, coots everywhere with the beautiful sunrise for a backdrop.
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After the coot fly-in I went in search of the field trips. I met up with Shiv Verma on one of his daily photo walks. Shiv’s photo walks are sponsored by Panasonic. This is cool because Panasonic provides Shiv with lots of new equipment. As part of the photo walk, you not only were able to get some expert photography advice from Shiv, you could also take the new Panasonic equipment for a spin. Grab the new Lumix mirrorless camera and plop it on a new 4800mm scope, wow! One of the many perks of attending the SCBWF. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to play with the toys.
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Next, I met up with Kevin Karlson on his Birding by Impression field trip. He has recently co-authored a book of the same name. As well as writing books, Kevin is an excellent photographer and also did photography classes and workshops at the festival. I have gotten to know Kevin over the years and his field trips are always among the best at the festival. Birding by impression is a technique of bird identification that he has been perfecting over the years. By observing the birds size and shape, as well as the behavior of the bird, you are able to ID the bird when traditional field marks are not clearly seen. It is an interesting concept and Kevin is fantastic at explaining it. The 2016 SCBWF was off to a great start.
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I recently conducted a night time photography workshop at the 2016 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I did three workshops on three different nights. On the first night we were treated to a spectacular sunset! On the second night, the sunset was not as spectacular, but we got some spectacular night photos of the Max Brewer Memorial Bridge over the Indian River Lagoon. The third night was the coldest windiest night ever! The waves on the river were crashing over the seawalls. We also, despite the weather, got some great night time bridge photos. I want to thank all of my participants for coming out and braving the weather with me. It was great fun for me, I hope you all had fun as well.
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You have probably heard of the golden hour. It’s the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. The light has a warm gold cast to it. It’s one of my favorite times of the day, and not just for photographing. I just really like that time of day. The time just before sunrise and just after sunset is known as the blue hour. The sky turns a beautiful blue color. A lot of photographers will pack up after the sunsets and disappears below the horizon. If you have a little patience and hang around for a while, your images will have an amazing blue sky. You need to plan ahead, find a good location and work fast. Speaking of time, you don’t have much. Despite the name, the effect will last as little as 10min. and as much as 40min. Even then, it’s still not time to pack up your gear. There are still some great images to capture. This is what we will be discussing at my night time photography workshop at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I hope to see you there!
I think this grackle has been hanging out with his friend the osprey way too much.
If you want to see birds like this doing the things birds do, come to the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
I have been intrigued by this old Hotpoint sign since I moved to Titusville. Originally occupied by an appliance store, this building sat vacant for quite some time. Amazingly this very cool sign survived. Recently a clothing boutique moved in. I was very happy when they restored the sign and adapted it to their needs, rather than replacing it. I really like this old sign and I’m glad it’s still here.
I will be doing a photography field workshop at the 2016 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival on night time photography. We will be learning how to make photographs like this one. This is an amazing festival. There is something for everyone, not only birders and photographers. I hope to see you there!
Here are some of the highlights from the 18th annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
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Birders from all over the United States and several other countries gathered in Titusville, Florida for the SCBWF the last week in January. Although January is typically Florida’s coldest month, and it was one of our coldest weeks. I’m sure visitors from the northeast, who were in the middle of a deep freeze, were happy to be here. Birders both young and old had a great time and saw lots of birds. The youngest birders rivaled even the guides. They didn’t miss a bird and were able to name every one!
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The early bird catches the worm! Birders tend to take that phrase pretty seriously. No worries though, it’s my favorite time of the day!
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Back at the exhibit hall you can do some shopping. There is everything from great arts and crafts to that new kayak you have always wanted. Pick out a new pair of binoculars, or plan your next birding trip to some exotic place. Visit the art show and pick out your favorite piece of art. Don’t forget to look at the birding checklist board to see who is seeing what birds where.
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The entertainment is fantastic! After a long day of birding in the field, save some energy to enjoy one of the evening keynote speakers. You will be glad that you did!
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Take a class to learn how to be a better birder. Then go out in the field with the best birders in the country, and put what you have learned to use. Don’t be afraid to ask a question. All of the field trip leaders are happy to answer any question you may have. No matter how trivial you may think it is, there is probably another person thinking the same thing, and will be happy you asked the question. These people love to share information, and are happy to help you out. Take advantage of it!
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Titusville has a large variety of birds. One of the reasons this area is a great place to go birding is the diversity in habitats. There are several types of habitats in very close proximity. This makes it very easy to see many different birds in a short period of time.
If you hang out here too long, don’t be surprised if you start acting like a bird!
A great time was had by all! If you have never been to the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, I hope you will plan on being here next year! If you have been to the festival, I hope to see you again next year!
After the launch scrubbed the previous day, the crowd gathers again for a second attempt for an Orion test flight. The weather is a bit iffy today, there are quite a few clouds. We have the same 7:05 – 9:44am launch window, so there is plenty of time for the weather to clear up. You know how Florida weather is, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minuets and it will change! Just before sunrise the clouds did thin and we were treated to another great sunrise. The countdown is winding down and all systems are go! There are no boats, no high winds, and no frozen valves. Yeah! There is a glow on the horizon as the engines on the Delta IV Heavy ignite. The Delta carrying Orion slowly rises into the sky. We get a good look at Orion before it disappears into the clouds. Orion performed well on its 4 hour test flight. Orion orbited the earth twice before splashing down in the pacific ocean.
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It’s a beautiful morning for the test flight of Orion, NASA’s new space vehicle. Orion is one of the first steps on the road back to manned space flight for the United States. It’s no wonder that this launch draws a large crowd. It almost looked like a shuttle launch. People came from all over the United States and a few other counties too. The launch was set for 7:05am, the launch window is open until 9:44am. I heard that some people had been there since 3:00am! I slipped in about 6:30am, one of the perks of living close by. Orion is hitching a ride on a Delta IV heavy, the biggest rocket we fly these days. It’s basically 3 Delta rockets strapped together. Orion will have its own new rocket soon. The weather was great! The sunrise was beautiful, everyone is looking forward to a great launch. Everything is go for launch, but just before 7:00am the launch is put on hold. A boat has wandered into the no-boat zone near the launch pad. It takes authorities quite a while to get the boat clear of the launch zone. No worries though, there is a rather long launch window for this launch. The boat is cleared away, we have a new launch time, and the countdown resumes. The countdown is once again put on hold. It seems that the winds at the launch pad are too high for launch. The winds have calmed, we are counting down to a new launch time. Once again the countdown is put on hold. This time we have a frozen cryogenic fuel valve. As they are working through the valve issue, it’s interesting to see how people who have been here since 3:00am, are passing the time. A few dolphins stopped by, that kept us entertained for a while. There is a glimmer of hope, around 9:30am the countdown is resumed. A wave of excitement moves through the crowd, everyone gets ready for the launch. Hopes are dashed just as the 9:44am launch window closes, the launch is scrubbed! The valve issue has not been resolved. So we try again tomorrow.
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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.
For the past few months I’ve been in somewhat of a creative slump. Sort of a photographer’s block. I didn’t feel creative enough to take photos. The photos I did take didn’t end up looking the way I wanted them to. When I take a photo I get a vision in my mind of how I want it to look. My vision and my camera somehow become one. Lately though, my vision and my camera have been disconnected.
Creativity is like a muscle. You need to exercise it or it will get weak. My creative muscle was getting weak. This is the time of year when we get some nice fog in the mornings. I like taking photos on those foggy mornings. There were a couple foggy mornings that snuck up on me and I missed them all together. There was one I was ready for; I woke up early, and it was nice and foggy. I decided to go across the river to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Big mistake, there was no fog on that side of the river. I took a few photos, but nothing I was real happy with. My creativity and my camera were disconnected still.
I kept my eye on the weather for more fog. The other day there was a chance of fog. I woke up early and looked outside, I didn’t see any fog. I went back to bed, and when I woke again there was fog. I guess I checked too early and the fog hadn’t formed yet. It was too late to get to where I wanted to photograph; I was very discouraged. I expected the next day to be foggy too. I decided to get out early and take some photos, fog or no fog. I needed to exercise my muscle. There was some fog, but it was very spotty. I drove over to the wildlife refuge. The first thing I came across were some black skimmers. They were skimming over the mirror smooth water. The sun was still below the horizon, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I took a few good images, and LOTS of bad ones. As the skimmers moved on I was treated to a beautiful sunrise. I moved back across the river to the marina. I found a few nice images on the way to the marina. Once at the marina I found another one of my favorite subjects: reflections.
All in all, I think I was able to give my creative muscle a decent workout. My creativity is feeling stronger and I hope that my creative slump is waning!
Fall not only brings cooler weather (below 90 in our case). It also brings the start of the Fall Art show season. Central Florida hosts many fine art shows. Art collectors and artists from all over the country visit the area to buy and sell all types of beautiful art.
Historic Downtown Melbourne Fl. is host to one such art show. The historic section of Melbourne is a 6 to 7 block walk back in time. The streets are filled with historic store fronts, eclectic shops, boutiques, and restaurants. This makes a great backdrop for the Fall Festival and Art Show.
The Melbourne Fall Festival is filled with art of all kinds. A short walk through the historic streets of Melbourne you will find all types of paintings, sculptures, jewelry, photography, and arts &crafts. There is fun for all ages, face painting, arts & craft making for the kids, shopping and beer for the adults. Music is also a big part of the festival. The main stage was filled with local artists featuring all kinds of music throughout the day.
Here are some of my photos that I took for Main Street Melbourne.
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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.
I took a short walk on the beach the other day. I found myself under the Cocoa Beach Pier. As I was walking around watching the waves as they advanced and then retreated over the sand. My eye was drawn to the reflections on the thin layer of water as it slipped back into the ocean. I have always been fascinated with reflections. I liked the way the water flowing back into the ocean was distorting the reflection, giving it an eery feeling.
Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Mi esposa y yo pensamos que una buena manera de celebrar el Cinco de Mayo sería contar con una margarita en la playa. Así que mezclamos un poco de margaritas y dirigirse a la playa. Este es un gran momento del año para estar en la playa en la Florida. La humedad es todavía baja, la temperatura no muy por encima de 80. Es sólo el tiempo perfecto para un viaje a la playa. Llovió todos los días de la semana pasada. Así que estábamos listos para un día soleado en la playa. Fue un muy buen día de relax en la playa.
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:
The Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera is a great local birding site. It’s known locally as the Viera wetlands. The wetlands are part of the water treatment plant for the area. You’re probably thinking why would I want to go birding at a water treatment plant? It’s dirty, smelly and yucky! Well it’s not. It’s actually a very nice place to visit. The treatment plant has created several ponds of water to help them filter the treated water. Over the years, plants and vegetation have grown in and around the ponds, helping to filter the water. When the vegetation showed up, so did the birds. There are several pairs of breeding birds at the wetlands. This makes for great viewing during nesting season. If you only have a short time and want to see lots of birds, the Viera wetlands are the place to go! But plan on spending some time at the wetlands. You never know what’s around the next corner and you won’t want to miss it. During the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife festival I photographed two fieldtrips at the wetlands. The first fieldtrip to arrive was pretty much a straight up birding group. The fieldtrip was led by Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis, two excellent birders. Michael and Louise are very knowledgeable on all things birding. They are fantastic at explaining all about any birds or habitat that you are seeing. This is a great fieldtrip for all levels of birders; you will defiantly learn something new.
Don’t drop your lens hood off of the observation deck. I will photograph you in an awkward position trying to fish it out of the water!
The second fieldtrip to arrive at the wetlands was a photography workshop led by Kevin Karlson. Kevin is a fantastic bird photographer as well as knowing a great deal about birds. Kevin Karlson and Mikael O’Brien along with Richard Crossley co-authored a field guide titled “The Shore Bird Guide.” This is a must have guide for identifying shorebirds. However on this trip Kevin Instructed the group on how to photograph birds in flight. The day before Kevin gave a class on photographing BIF and today is a hands on extension of that class. I for one have a hard time photographing birds in flight. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard. The bird flies by and you take his photo, easy, right? Not really, usually the bird is out of focus, or not exposed correctly, or both. Kevin is a great teacher and he works with everyone until they get it right. He uses this amazing technique where he changes his exposure as he is photographing the bird. You need to be keenly aware of what direction the bird is flying as well as what direction the light is coming from. Depending on the situation you may need to add or subtract exposure as the bird flies past. You also need to be very familiar with your camera and how its settings work. This technique takes a huge amount of practice. Once mastered, the results are excellent bird in flight photographs. Kevin also explained all of the other BIF issues like focusing, lenses, tracking the bird, and many other things that come up when photographing BIF. This was an excellent workshop and I’m sure the participants (me included) learned a few things.
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.