My first day as a Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival photographer started early. I needed to meet the birding group at 6:45am and it’s about an hour’s drive from Titusville. I needed to photograph a field trip in the Turkey Creek Tract of the Charles H. Bronson (not the actor) State Forest. I had never been to this site before, so I was eager to see what’s there. The Turkey Creek tract is smack dab in the middle of nowhere! The roads were narrow, winding and dark. I’m glad I left the house a bit early. I was the first to arrive at the meeting place. That’s good, because I have equipment to get ready and I like to have a bit of time to unwind before getting started. It was still pitch black. The stars were sparkling in the sky. The buzz of the power lines overhead was the only sound. As I got my gear ready I was listening for owls. This seemed like the perfect spot for a barred owl, but none were hooting this morning. The Turkey Creek Tract is normally closed to vehicles. You can hike the roads of the tract on foot, bicycle, or horseback. We will not need to do any of those. The festival has arranged for transportation in forest service vehicles. It pays to know people. The birders and our forest service vehicles arrived just as the sky began to show the first light of the day. Our festival field trip leader, Dave Goodwin, of the Florida Ornithological society, instructed the group on the day’s events. Everyone climbed aboard our forest service vehicles and we were off for a day of birding!
The Turkey Creek Tract has several different types of bird habitat. This is one of the reasons that it makes a great place to go birding. We stopped at each of these types of habitat to see what birds were going to say hello to us. The first and probably the best stop is in a pine forest. This particular pine forest is the home of a pair of eagles. The eagles have built their nest in a large pine tree just off of the road. We all got out of the vehicles to look at the nest. The female sat on a branch just beside the nest. The male was flying from tree to tree to get a better look at all of us getting a look at them.
We couldn’t see inside of the nest, but at this time of the year they should have a few eaglets. The eagles were talking to each other as the male flew from tree to tree. No doubt he was making fun of us silly humans watching them. Before I got too caught up in watching and listening to the eagles, I remembered I’m here to take photos of the birders birding. The sun was not quite up yet so this proves a bit of a challenge.
I needed to increase my ISO and even then it was hard to get a fast enough shutter speed. The birders were moving around and looking through their binoculars to get a good view of the eagles. I didn’t think it would be proper to ask them to stop moving around. I managed to get a few “OK” photos before we decided not to wear out our welcome and move along. It was so early I didn’t think that any of the other birds were out of bed yet.
A good part of the Turkey Creek Tract is pasture for grazing cattle. The cattle were not the only animals grazing in the pastures. There were several small herds of deer as well. Probably the most deer I have seen in one place in Florida. Sandhill cranes were also grazing in the pastures. I see them all the time, but to out-of-town birders it’s quite the sight. We stopped alongside of a grassy meadow to get a look at some sparrows and meadowlark.
The St. Johns River marks the eastern most border of the Turkey Creek Tract. We made two stops along the river. The St. Johns River is a great habitat for lots of shore birds, ducks, gulls, and herons, not to mention alligators. Fortunately, we didn’t run across any gators on this trip.
The highlight of the St. Johns River stops, for me anyway, were the large flocks of white pelicans. The white pelicans are one of my favorite winter visitors to our area. Unfortunately, they were out of camera range, so I was unable to get any photos of them. There were also several varieties of warblers and a kingfisher entertaining us as they were fluttering from shrub to shrub.
A special thanks to Dave and Stephen, (in the green jackets) our Forest Service drivers. Not only for driving us around, but they told us all kinds of interesting things about the area.
The last habitat on our tour of the Turkey Creek Tract is a hardwood hammock. The hammock is a great habitat for warblers, vireos, and many other birds. We got to see some white eyed vireos and blue-headed vireos.
A red-shoulder hawk stopped by to see what we were up to. A few eagles circled overhead to keep an eye on us to make sure we were staying within the guidelines of the American Birding Association. I guess we were doing OK because they moved on. We had a great day birding at the Turkey Creek Tract. We got to see many more birds than the ones I have mentioned. The one bird that you would expect to see at the Turkey Creek Tract was a turkey. They must have heard that a group of birders was heading their way and decided they better hide.
Check your list!
I had a great day photographing and watching the birdwatchers. I had fun bird watching too. Hmmmm, the photographer might be becoming more of birder. My day however is just getting started. I still have lots of festival to photograph.
To be continued….