A quick road trip to photograph birds in Florida

When I’m driving in Florida, I have this crazy expectation that the drivers are friendly and relaxed. They aren’t. My first day here and I’m driving around Orlando and Kissimmee and people are frantic. I expect that in New Jersey, but people should be calmer in Florida. Four times I got honked at within the first hour around here.

I come to Florida looking for nature and wildlife, the critter kind. So it is rather crazy that I am hanging out in the ultimate tourist trap of Orlando. Everything looks like it was built for $15 and there’s a million signs wanting me to stop and buy something.

But I’m here to photograph birds and I’ve made my first journey to Gatorland. I’d heard about the rookery at Gatorland and I was extremely doubtful. But I did a lot of research and it seemed to be real. A tourist trap had been built around a rookery and they made sure plenty of gators are around to keep the tourists happy. They put a big boardwalk through the rookery and built some towers to make observation even better. I was initially repulsed by the idea of it but the more I thought about the more I realized that if money wasn’t being made, then somebody would fill in the ponds, knock down the trees and build another un-needed hotel.

Gatorland lets photographers come in at 7:30 a.m. on Thursday through Sunday for $20, while the rest of the public doesn’t come in until 10 a.m. There were about 15 people heading in this morning, a few had been there before and several, including me, were Gatorland rookies.

It was worth the $20. It is the largest rookery I’ve ever had access to. There are lots of different species nesting and most are close enough to get good photos with a 200mm lens. The nests are down low because they are protected from raccoons and other predators by the big, mean-looking gators. The gators get fresh snacks when young birds fall out of the nest, so it is a good thing for everybody.

The birds have grown accustomed to the people because they know they are protected. Hundreds of birds were sitting, flying, wading and doing everything birds do and I shot until my trigger finger was sore and the sun was moving up in the sky.

I left the busyness of the Orlando area and headed west to the coast to check out some parks in the Tampa area.

See a photo gallery from my two days in Florida.

A wood stork carries a stick to its nest.

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