Central Florida Wildlife Pt.1

Winter moved in early this year making me feel trapped and longing for a high sun warming my bones. While traveling in Africa, I had heard about the wintering habits of migrating birds on Merritt Island adjacent to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Having recently purchased some new photo equipment (Wimberly gimbal), I was anxious to master the panning technique with bird flight that would enable me to capture the sharp stop action photos I like. The gimbal is a device that sits on my tripod and swivels left and right as well as up and down allowing me to rotate my camera to track moving objects. It takes awhile to become proficient, better to practice where it is warm and the subjects are numerous. Book the flight!

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore are contiguous parks on the barrier island that is also home to the Kennedy Space Center. It is about an hour east of the Orlando airport. Both areas have pervasive wetlands with palmetto jungles and scattered pine and oak forest. The best viewing was along a deterioriated six mile road that ran through the Canaveral site. A creek flowed along the roadside adjacent to the vast wetland area providing an environment perfect for nesting birds as well as many different mammals.

This was a totally difference experience from my Africa travels. Here, I was the organizer, the guide, and the driver in addition to being the photographer. I crept along the creek in my rented four-wheel drive with window down and my huge 500 mm lens with 1.4 extender across my lap trying to sneek  up on the skittish wildlife. I quickly discovered I needed to position the vehicle to gain my shooting angle before placing my camera out the window while balancing  the lens on the driver’s door. My first shots were pretty soft until I remembered that the vibration of the engine was enough to shake my lens necessitating shutting off the Jeep each time I stopped.

Coincidently, I have friends who winter across the bay looking directly on Merritt Island and the Cape Canaveral launch site. Nice having a place to stay with all the comforts of home as well as a refuge in the middle of the day when lighting is less than ideal for photographing. Time well spent downloading and backing up images.  Thanks Dick and Darlene.

After three and a half days exploring Merritt Island, I began to understand the fasination bird watchers have with the Great Blue Heron. The subtle elegant colors of its breeding plumage was matched by the grace of its movement including the lumbering ascent to flight. Maneuvering that huge wing span through the tight confines of the wetland vegetation was quite an amazing sight.

Blue Heron Merritt Island

Blue Heron reflection Merritt Island




Getting a Great Blue Heron to take flight on command when you are set to shoot just doesn’t happen. So when I spotted a likely subject in a tree on the bank of the creek, I quietly inched my vehicle into position to have a view down the waterway. I set up my camera and waited. Knowing that another vehicle would eventually come along and flush the bird, all I needed was patience.





A travel mate to Africa was somewhat an expert on Kingfishers and photographed every one we came across. As I made my way through the island, I constantly saw small Belted Kingfishers taking flight well out of camera range. I wanted a good shot to send off to Bob but they were so skittish and quick it did not appear this would happen. Patience, a key theme for entire the trip, eventually paid off when I stopped chasing and finally waited for the Kingfisher to fly into me.




Another spectacular bird was the Roseate Spoonbill. Even more vibrantly colored than the Flamingos I had seen in Kenya, this Spoonbill is trying to make a come back in localized regions of Florida. Like the Flamingo, its pink color is the result of diet. Spoonbills feed in shallow coastal waters by vigerously moving their head back and forth disturbing the bottom and filtering water through its slightly open large beak trapping small fish, crustaceans, insects, or even frogs.




Even though birds dominated the viewing opportunities on Merritt Island, there was other wildlife. A very healthy Alligator population liberally dotted the creek banks trying to warm themselves in the very cold Florida mornings (temperatures were actually warmer in Massachusetts during this period)  and wild boar brazenly fed along the road in defiance of my presence.





Other birds of interest:

Tricolored Heron posing


Tricolored Heron feeding.

Tricolor Heron Merritt Island




Reddish Egret in the beautifully warm light of the sunrise.



Common Cormorant


Adult White Ibis


Juvenile White Ibis


Great White Egret in full breeding plumage preening.



And finally a small diving duck that was very prevalent but I can’t identify. Just looked busy motoring across the creek.


7 responses

  1. Steve
    The pictures are fabulous! Chris and I spent a week there a couple years ago, we had a much fun looking at the wildlife on that island as we did at the Kennedy Space Center.
    Thanks for sharing!

    March 4, 2014 at 12:12 am

  2. Jane Wordsworth

    Beautiful pictures–thanks for sharing!

    March 4, 2014 at 1:47 am

  3. Chuck and Sigrid

    Sigrid and I, are really enjoying your digital photography. The shots are fabulous ! Best Regards

    March 4, 2014 at 2:24 am

  4. Steve, you truly have a huge talent for this photography! It’s such fun to see what you have captured with your lens(es). Thanks so much for sharing!


    March 4, 2014 at 2:50 am

  5. downtowngal

    You have a real talent for capturing wildlife. It’s such fun to see the success you have had with the Florida critters. They seemingly love your lens!

    March 4, 2014 at 2:54 am

  6. barry kostanski

    Hi Coach; Beautiful photos!!! Patty and I spending our 2 months down here and to think all these birds lie so close to us!!! Gotta head north——-

    March 5, 2014 at 1:33 pm

  7. Rubn Eduardo

    Dear Steve,

    Wow! The pictures are so beautiful! I bet Deborah Snow from the Blue Heron Restaurant would LOVE the photos.

    Getting these shots seems to be 90% of the experience. I’m glad that we get share and see nature from your ‘eyes behind the lenses’.

    Amazing Pictures!!! R

    On Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 10:59 AM, Steve Upton Photography wrote:

    > steveuptonphotography posted: “Winter moved in early this year making > me feel trapped and longing for a high sun warming my bones. While > traveling in Africa, I had heard about the wintering habits of migrating > birds on Merritt Island adjacent to Cape Canaveral, Florida. Having > recently”

    March 6, 2014 at 7:05 pm

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