Comet NEOWISE visible over the Indian River Lagoon in Titusville Florida. NEOWISE is a newly discovered comet. It was just discovered this past March. It was discovered by the NEOWISE space telescope (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Explorer). The comet is visible from just after sunset until about 10:00pm. In Florida anyway, I think it’s visible later farther north. NEOWISE is low in the north sky just under the Big Dipper. The comet is pretty dim and hard to find without binoculars. Once it’s located with the binoculars, you can see it with the naked eye. NEOWISE will be visible until July 22. Happy comet watching!
I had a blast last Saturday taking part in Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photo Walk. This year there were 868 walks in locations all over the world. There were 17,768 photographers taking photos all over the world on the same day. The walk I participated in was lead by my friend and fellow photographer Chris Wiley. We had 13 photographers in our walk. We started our sunset walk in Sand Point Park in Titusville Fl. We split the group in half, Chris took a group to photograph the sunset overlooking the marina. I took a group to photograph the sunset from the top of the A. Max Brewer Bridge. The Max is one of my favorite spots to photograph. After sunset we did a bit of night photography around the bridge. One of the best things about photographing the Max, is the Pier 220 outdoor restaurant and bar. They had a great live band and the place was hopping. So no better way to cap off a day of photography and meeting some new photographers, than to have a bite to eat and some ice cold beers at the Pier 220. I had fun meeting new people and taking some photos. I’m sure there is a walk in your town. Next year you should take a walk.
Our art and culture tour was great! We learned a lot about Cuban culture and life. We saw lots of neat things like Revolution Square, Hamel ally, we had a nice lunch and Mojitos at the Bodeguita. We learned more about Cuban culture at the Bodega. As we walked through Old Havana we saw an architectural school where workers were learning how to restore Havanas old buildings and statues. Our tour ended at the building with the old railroad equipment. This was a large craft market where all sorts of Cuban art and products were sold. We purchased a wooden 3D wall art of La Bodeguita del Medio. We also took home some Cuban rum and a few cigars. Havana was awesome! It really did have a pulse or a vibe that you could feel. When I was reading about Havana before our trip, I read somewhere, I’m sorry I forget where or who said this, but they said, “Havana was in a state of elegant decay.” That was pretty much how I would describe Havana. There’s lots of great architecture. Some of it is restored and some of it, although it is in a state of disrepair, has a certain elegance to it. The colors of Havana are awesome! I really like black and white photos and lots of these photos would probably look really good in B&W. It’s the color of Havana that gives it its charm. I don’t think I will be converting any of these. Robbie and I had a wonderful two days in Havana. Sadly all good things must come to an end. It was time to board our ship for the cruise back to Miami. Things came to an end more than we knew. Havana only gave us a taste for Cuba. There are many other locations in Cuba that we wanted to see. Unfortunately, before we were able to go back to Cuba, the ban on travel to Cuba was put into place. Hopefully the ban will be lifted, but it doesn’t look like that will be anytime soon. For now, photos of Cuba are all we have.
If you click on an image you will be able to see it larger. I’m sorry there are so many, I could not help myself.
After a really nice lunch at La Bodeguita del Medio, we continued on a walking tour of Old Havana. There was some repetition of our tour from yesterday, but it was mostly things we didn’t mind seeing again anyway. Also this tour took a different route and we saw lots of different things along the way, as well as getting a different perspective. For instance, we got off of the bus near Plaza de Armas and walked through Plaza de la Catedral on the way to and from the Bodeguita.
One of the things we saw along the way was La Bodega de Barrio, a local ration store. Basic staples like rice, sugar, salt, soap and many other necessities have been rationed in Cuba since the 1960s. In order to understand rationing you need to know a little about Cuban currency. There are two types of currency in Cuba. The Cuban convertible peso or CUC and the Cuban peso or CUP. Cuban state workers are paid mostly in Cuban pesos or CUPs, they also receive a few Cuban convertible pesos or CUCs. At the risk of oversimplifying, if Cubans are paid by the government or spend money at a government business, Cubans use CUPs. If Cubans are paid or spend money at a non government business, Cubans use CUCs. You can probably guess which one is worth more. When people from other countries visit Cuba, they exchange their currency for CUCs. Visitors are only allowed to use CUCs. When you exchange U.S. dollars for CUCs there is an added surcharge of 10%, lucky us. Some people like to get Euros and exchange the Euro for CUCs without the surcharge. Getting Euros before your trip also has a cost, I figured it was close to a wash and we didn’t need that much anyway, so we just exchanged U.S. for CUCs and paid the extra 10%.
Getting back to Cuban rationing and the Bodega. The Cuban government gives each family a ration coupon book called a Libreta de Abastecimiento. The amount of rations each family is allowed depends on the size, age, and gender of each family. There is a Bodega for each neighborhood, they must use that Bodega. Cubans take the coupons to the Bodega, the coupon determines how much of each commodity they can buy with CUPs. There are stores where Cubans may buy things over and above the rations. Unfortunately, they need to pay for those items with CUCs and CUCs are hard to get for a lot of Cubans.
When we arrived at the Bodega our guide was telling us about the Bodega and rationing. After that we entered the Bodega. I could tell buy the size of the group and the size of the Bodega that we were not all going to fit. As the group was inside the Bodega, I hung around outside taking some photos of the area. My wife Robbie took these photos of the inside of the Bodega. Also for some reason I felt a little strange photographing the Bodega. As the crowd thinned, I did go inside and took a look around.
You maybe wondering about the La Bodeguita the restaurant and the Bodega the store. The Bodeguita started out as a store many years ago, long before rationing. They started making a few dishes to sell in the store. Eventually it evolved from a store, into a restaurant. Hence La Bodeguita or the little store.
Update on Cuba: Due to the recent ban on travel to Cuba, along with tightening of the U.S. embargo, as of May 2019, rationing in Cuba has been increased. Cubans now need to make due with even less than before! Also the situation in Venezuela is having an effect. Venezuela has stopped sending aid to Cuba. The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela is said to be the reason for the U.S. travel ban. Although even before things in Venezuela became an issue, the U.S. started restricting travel to Cuba.
We had a great morning seeing Revolution square and the Callejon de Hamel. Now it was time for lunch. We boarded the bus for the ride back to Old Havana. The streets of Old Havana are fairly narrow, not suitable for large buses. So here is where the walking tour portion of our excursion started. We exited the bus near El Malecon and walked about three blocks through the Plaza de la Catedral to La Bodeguita del Medio. La Bodeguita del Medio is probably the most famous restaurant and bar in Havana, maybe even all of Cuba. They claim to be the inventor of the mojito. It was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite place to have a mojito. Many other famous people made a point of stopping by when they were in Havana. There is a large painting of Ernest Hemingway and I think maybe the bartender or owner on the wall behind the bar. Back before the days of Hemingway, it became a custom to autograph the walls. Today there isn’t an inch of wall space that doesn’t have someones name on it. They reserved the whole second floor for our tour. They served lobster tail, plantains, rice and beans. Robbie and several others were vegetarians; they had a nice veggie plate. We washed it all down with a world famous Bodeguita Mojito. After lunch we were entertained by a Cuban band. The music was great, and in case we didn’t already know it, we were definitely in Havana! Our local Cuban/Mexican restaurant has artwork on the wall depicting La Bodeguita del Medio. Now every time I see it, I remember our lunch at Bodeguita. We also brought home a wooden wall art of the Bodeguita.
Our bus ride took us across town to the Callejon de Hamel, basically an ally named Hamel. The Hamel is a small two block long alleyway in the Afro-Cuban neighborhood. The ally is covered with the colorful, eclectic art of Salvador Gonzales. The buildings are covered in colorful murals. There are sculptures most people would probably call junk art. Salvador used old pipes, car parts, bike parts, bathtubs, and other assorted scraps of metal to make his sculptures. His use of bathtubs is particularly interesting. Some of them he cut in half and made benches from them. Others he put on pedestals or embedded in the walls. Salvador is self taught, he started with a few pieces in the ally near his home. He was encouraged by other residents and visitors to continue. He now has murals and art work all over the world. There is a small gallery of his art in the ally. These items are for sale, and I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures of them. You can walk up and down the small alleyway several times and see something new each time.
After learning about Salvador and seeing the artwork in the ally, we were taken to a small brightly colored room, decorated with more sculptures. There were chairs all along the walls, we all found a seat. Our resident Hamel Ally expert, who had told us all about the ally, started telling us about Cuban Rumba dancing. Rumba means party and this dance is certainly a party! It was created by freed slaves living in Cuba. It is a mixture of their African and Spanish heritages. The music, also called Rumba, is played with three different size conga drums. The beat is loud and lively. The dance is wild and exuberant. Some dances are showing off dance moves and skill. Other dances with a man and a woman, have sexual overtones. The man will make advances toward the woman and the woman will resist. This is not the Rumba that Robbie and I learned in ballroom dance class! They passed the hat at the end, a tip was well deserved. I wasn’t expecting the dance show and we didn’t have a lot of Cuban money left. I wish I would have been able to give a little more.
The Hamel was awesome! I did read about it when I was researching doing things on our own in Havana. It’s a little out of the way and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get there or not. Even if we had been able get there, we would have missed the Rumba dancing. The dancing that we saw was done especially for our tour. The public dancing in the ally is only done on Sundays. It’s little things like this that can make doing a shore excursion worthwhile.
On our second day in Havana, Robbie and I chose to do the Art and Culture tour. This was sort of a hybrid tour that involved a bus ride, as well as a walking tour. We woke up early and ate a good breakfast. There is no shortage of food on a cruise. This tour included lunch, but we were not sure when that would be. Once again we met our group in the big showroom to wait our turn to exit the ship. Once we were off the ship we needed go through customs. They had several customs people, so the process went fairly quickly and smoothly. They just check your passport, visa, and make sure you don’t have any weapons, fruits, etc., the typical things you can’t take into another country. There is airport type scanning and off you go. We met up with our group at the designated area and boarded our bus.
The first stop on the tour was Plaza de la Revolucion, we call it Revolution Square. The square is outside of Old Havana, too far to walk. To see this on our own we would have needed a taxi or maybe one of those cool little yellow Cocotaxies. A Cocotaxi is a small, round, motorized rickshaw thing that looks like a coconut. They are rather cute, but being a three wheel vehicle they are prone to tipping over (I don’t think that happens too often). The bus ride from the port took us down Paseo de Pardo, this is a large tree lined boulevard with a promenade through the middle. If you have the time, a stroll down the promenade is recommended. We road past the Memorial Granma. The memorial houses the yacht Granma that Fidel Castro used to transport revolutionary fighters from Mexico to Cuba. The glass building that houses the Granma is surrounded by old military vehicles, the Granma is not visible from the road. We then passed by El Capitolio, the old capitol building. It was modeled after our own capitol building in Washington DC. Just past El Capitolio is Chinatown.
Revolution Square is a huge plaza where political rallies are held. Fidel Castro and other Cuban leaders address the people of Cuba from this plaza. A prominent feature of the plaza is the Jose Marti monument. It’s a tall star shaped tower along one side of the plaza. Jose was a Cuban hero from the late 1800s. There is a museum in the base of the tower, we didn’t have time to visit. Behind the monument is a large government building and the home of the Cuban Communist Party. On the other side of the plaza are two other government buildings. One has a large drawing in steel of Camilo Cienfuegos, who sort of looks like Fidel. We thought it was Fidel at first. The other building has a matching drawing of Che Guevara. They were both heroes of the Cuban Revolution and friends of Fidel Castro. As you can see in the parking lot one of the best ways to get to the plaza is in an old classic car. Due to not being able to buy parts from the US, most of these old cars have a Russian engine under the hood. All aboard for the bus ride back to Old Havana.
It was that time of year again, the birds were flying south and so were the birders. That means it was time once again for the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. I had the opportunity again this year to offer my Nighttime Photography Workshop at the A Max Brewer Bridge. We had a great time photographing the bridge, watching birds and dolphins. I had lots of fun, I think my participants did as well. I’m sure they got some awesome photographs. I always spend a lot of time working with the people in my workshop, so I don’t take many photos during the workshop. A few days before the workshop I always get out to take a few test shots. So here are the test shots that I took just before the festival.
An excellent photo opportunity has presented it’s self. SpaceX has scheduled a resupply mission to the International Space Station, launching right at dawn. There was a really good chance 45 minuets before sunrise, there could be some really nice color in the sky. I could not pass this up, I had to give it a try.
I took my camera for a walk on the boardwalk at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. I was just shooting anything that I found interesting. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I had a nice walk, taking some photos. At home when I downloaded my photos, I thought I had lost half of them. The first photo was one that I had taken half-way through my walk. I thought “well this is odd.” As I looked a bit more closely, I realized what had happened. Halfway through my walk I had taken photo #9,999 with this camera, so the camera started numbering the photos over again at 001. So here is the 10,000 photo that I have taken with my D600.
Also here are some of the other photos that I took on my photo walk.
Just some pinwheels from the Playalinda Festival of the Arts.
I was doing a little prep photography for my Take Your Camera Off of Auto class and my Nighttime photography class this week at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. Stop by the festival this week at EFSC in Titusville and learn about photography as well as birding and wildlife in the area.
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Marilyn Cook, my Eastern Florida State College portfolio class teacher got together a group of past and present portfolio class students for a sunset photo shoot at Riverside Park in Melbourne Beach. Marilyn, Mike Brown (another one of my EFSC teachers) and guest instructor Fred Gramoso gave the group some sunset photography tips to prepare for the sunset photo shoot. Sunsets are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. I think we got a vanilla cream, it was a pretty decent sunset.
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Riverside Park is the Mallory Square of Melbourne Beach. People bring lawn chairs and gather for the show.
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Don’t leave after sunset! There are still great photos to be had. Approximately 1 hr after sunset the blue hour will start, not to be missed.
Also look behind you, there may be something interesting. In this case the church behind the park offered some interesting photos.
It was great fun getting together with fellow portfolio students, new ones and especially the old ones that I have not seen since the class.
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!
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!
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.