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Central Florida Wildlife PT.7

The mid-afternoon departure from Fort De Soto Park turned out to be a good move as I was able to avoid the majority of the Friday rush hour mess on the way to my sister’s place in north Tampa. As it turned out, she had gone to a lot of trouble finding a restaurant featuring stone crabs, my favorite Florida delicacy. Seems that stone crabs are in very short supply this season and Kristi had to search all over Tampa to locate even one restaurant offering them. Good thing I wasn’t late.

Embarrassingly, I had never visited my sister’s quaint bungalow home in the twenty years she has lived there. Just as I anticipated, it was a jewel. Well cared for and fashionably decorated, it certainly reflected Kristi’s personality. Knowing her energy level, I wasn’t surprised when she announced she would be getting up early and joining me on my morning shoot. Astonishingly, this outdoorsy-type gal was unaware of the park I had scheduled. Not to worry, we would learn together.

Lettuce Lake Park turned out to be a little gem. Boardwalks wove through swamps along the edges of a small lake. We enjoyed a great day together and I had a sherpa carrying half my equipment!

The overgrown vegetation of the swamp was eerily beautiful in its own right. Add a reflective Great White Egret and you have a painting.

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The boardwalk was a runway for this diminutive red squirrel.

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Directly overhead, this little guy was eyeballing me as he ate the growth buds off a small branch.

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The Wood Stork’s head and neck really did resemble the bark of a tree.

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As they scoured the swamp bottom for food, Wood Storks would reach to the side and scratch the mud with its claw hoping to scare prey into their waiting open beaks.

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We watched as this Anhinga tried unsuccessfully to devour its catch whole. Not five minutes before, a Great Blue Heron on the opposite side of the boardwalk had caught an equally large fish and consumed it easily. The growth was too dense to get a good photo but how incredible it was to witness such an event twice in such a short time frame.

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We had many opportunities for great poses.

Anhinga

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Red-Shouldered Hawk

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Northern Cardinal

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There were many Painted Turtles and, although they didn’t create any action shots, we did watch his guy slip into the water.

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This little guy seemed to be doing a full extension yoga stretch. Thanks for a total anatomical view.

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Log sitting in the sun seemed to be the answer to the cold water.

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Reflections of this Great White Egret and the large cedar stump created my most favorite memories of the day at Lettuce Lake Park with my sister.

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Central Florida Wildlife Pt.2

It was time to depart the Merritt Island area and move on south to stay with other friends in Vero Beach, didn’t want to wear out my welcome. Bob and Machiko had arranged an airboat tour of the Blue Cyprus Conservation Area located about and hour inland of Vero. Having only seen airboats whiz through the swamps on TV, I must say I was looking forward to the experience but why the hell did it have to be so cold in Florida. Within minutes of our launch, I was so transfixed on all the wildlife action that it could have been zero and I probably would not have noticed. Nesting Osprey, Osprey with their catch, Alligators everywhere, Peregrine Falcon circling overhead, wading birds taking flight, it was a photographer’s paradise, well, almost.

The airboat turned out to be a very challenging platform from which to photograph. Between the peaks and troughs of the wakes and the vigorous vibration of the air propeller, it took tremendous effort to control the bobbing and weaving of my long lens even with the aid of the monopod I had attached. With a 1.4 extender added to my long 500mm lens, the viewing angle was greatly reduced making it very difficult to find a moving object in the viewfinder. Of course, this is what gives you the magnification necessary for closeup photos. This is why I think photography is a lot like golf. When you pick your head up to peek, you miss the shot!

Well, the captain of the airboat was more concerned about putting on a good show than worrying about my photographic headaches. Knowing the circling Peregrine Falcon was searching for lunch, he purposely maneuvered the boat to flush a Coot into the air. For a brief moment, I tried to focus my lens on the descending Falcon before admitting that I didn’t stand a chance of completing the shot. After all , that bird was traveling well in excess of 100 miles per hour. I lowered my camera and watched in amazement as the midair collision resulted in the Falcon flying off with its talons sunk deep into its much larger dead prey. Had the Coot fallen to the water, the Peregrine Falcon would not have had the capacity to retrieve it. And what did I photograph? The final pose of course.

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Osprey usually take a mate for life returning to the same nest year after year.

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Osprey with hound fish. Eating only when hungry, they will not put their catch down staying at the perch for whatever time it takes to finish .

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The Anhinga is another superb fishing bird that dives for its food. This male’s eyes have turned from brown to turquoise indicating he is ready to mate. Once the female’s eye have changed he will get his chance.

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This Anhinga’s eyes have yet to change. Its neck reflects why it is sometimes referred to as the Snakebird.

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The captain of the airboat spotted this alligator as we breezed through the reeds at probably 30 miles per hour. Even after we doubled back, I could only see this eye. I don’t know how the captain ever saw it.

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Alligators simply were everywhere so the mystery eye was the exception not the rule.

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Floating grass and reed masses looked like solid land until the airboat just blew through them spooking wading birds like this Great Blue Heron.

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Up

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Up

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And away.

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So after a very action packed hour and a half, it was time to leave the wildlife, the vegetation, and our extremely cool ride behind as we headed east to return to the coast.

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After a great meal and a good night’s sleep, Bob and I set out to find the very obscure Indian River County Wetland Treatment Facility. Lots of Florida sewerage  treatment plants have large recharging ponds and wetlands that attract tons of wildlife. After an hour of stumbling around, I was forced to stop for directions. It was painfully obvious that Bob was not completely informed on the “workings” of his community. I am glad we made the effort as we were able to photograph a few previously unseen birds.

Common Gallinule

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Sora (small Rail)

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Strong winds ruffle the feathers of this perched juvenile Bald Eagle.

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American Coot

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Sticking with the theme of not wearing out my welcome, I thanked Bob and Machiko and backtracked north along the coast. I had read about wetlands in Viera but did not have time to check them out as I passed by on the way to Vero Beach. Not wanting to miss anything, I decided the effort would be worth while. I was not to be disappointed as you will see in installment 3 to follow.


Upper Peninsula of Michigan Pt. 2

Did you ever wonder what something really looked like up close? Or, you have ever tried to imagine what the environment is like for a very small individual? If so, then macro photography is right up your alley. Recently, I attended a workshop in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to work on macro techniques and skills. Of course, equipment is always the first topic of conversation. So as to not bore you, just a couple of points. All lenses are ground to be sharp within a certain focal distance from the camera. If you get to close too your subject, your photo will be blurry and out of focus. Macro lenses are produced to allow you to work within inches of your subject and still get tack sharp photos. Naturally you pay a premium for this speciality glass. So, many people use a telephoto lens if they have the ability to work further away from their subject or use extenders and/or extension tubes to be closer to their work. Either way, it is pretty cool to get eyeball to eyeball with things so small they are hard to detect in a meadow of wild flowers.

Fritillary butterfly sitting on a coneflower.

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Upper Peninsula of Michigan Pt1

Recently, on a photo workshop, I visited a region of the country previously unknown to me, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or, U.P. in local vernacular. It is a very sparsely populated vast land mass jutting into the Great Lakes that time has simply passed by. A boom mining economy (iron and copper ore) in the end of the 1800’s and the beginnings of the 1900’s has long disappeared leaving logging and tourism as an economic skeleton of what once was. Fiercely independent and self-reliant, the locals, “Yoopers” if you will, endure short summers and 160 inch snowfall winters( snowmobiles are mandatory equipment for tourists and locals alike). Lake Superior, the largest freshwater body in the world, creates its own weather systems. Many ships, including the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald, have met their demise in ocean-like storms on this sea of fresh water.  If the water of Lake Superior was pumped into a 5 foot deep swimming pool, it would cover the entire United States.

Small hamlets dot this forested glacier-flattened land mass. Cabins and hunting camps quietly blend to the trees waiting for lower Michiganders to come for short visits. Unassuming motels in the pines accommodate other visitors with clean rooms, hot water, and the charm of simpler times. The locals willingness to pay the price for living the lifestyle they cherish reminds me of Vermonters. Sitting right on the shore of Lake Superior, the larger village of Munising (population 2500) became a sanctuary from my temporary home in the woods. A logger’s breakfast with the locals at the “Dawg Patch” was fuel for an entire day.

Even though we had gathered at this location primarily to study macro photography, Munising offered an opportunity to explore the 15 mile section of Lake Superior known as the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Sandstone cliffs exposed to violent wind and wave erosion have left curious formations and mineral deposits have stained the craggy coast to create a contemporary art gallery. Boarding an evening tour boat, we were able witness the changing mood created by the setting sun.

African Safari (Kenya) Pt. 18

It is 4am. It is cold and it is pitch black. The idle generators will not be powering up the lights till 5. Drowsy but undaunted, with flashlight in hand, I stumble around the tent assembling gear for my extra early departure. This morning, I will be separating from my group to watch the sun rise over the plains of Masai Mara from the basket of a hot air balloon followed by a champagne brunch in the wild. I have seen Napa Valley wine country from a balloon so the ride is not the attraction, but rather, the perspective this vantage point will provide of the terrain we are working everyday. John Gerlach, tour organizer and true fiscally conservative Western Republican, kidded me by referring to this venture as the most expensive breakfast known to mankind. I remained John that one rubber-egged Republican fund raiser would make the cost of this ride look like chump change. Judge for yourself.
Masai Mara sunrise
Masai Mara sunrise (more…)


You found me before I was ready!

Leopard Hiding

 

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