Through the years I’ve read about the great wildlife at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island near Fort Meyers, FL. You can drive through the refuge and go past several different habitats, but people say after a hurricane a few years ago, it isn’t the same. I’ve only been there twice in the last three years, but it is still pretty cool. I can only imagine what it must have been like before and I hope it comes back to full strength again soon.
But I took my Florida Photography Workshop there and shot some amazing stuff. Cormorants are pretty common but it was fun seeing one pop up from the water with an eel in its mouth and then watch as the cormorant maneuvered the long thing around so it could be swallowed head first. The cormorant flew to a nearby branch and looked like it had some good indigestion after downing the whole thing.
We were just about done when we saw a couple of other photographers stopped so we had to see what was there. It was a yellow crowned night heron in beautiful light and doing great breeding displays. It was my first time seeing one and the beauty of the bird is amazing. It was worth the trip.
See photo gallery from Loren’s Florida photography workshop.
There are these cute little owls called burrowing owls that live in Florida and other warm places. Like many species, development has encroached on their territory and their numbers have dwindled. Cape Coral boasts the largest concentration of the little critters and they are trying to protect them as much as they can, or so the say. The owls dig nests in the sandy soil and tend to return to the same place year after year. They don’t particularly like people or pets to get too close, their little heads start bobbing when they get nervous and they head back down their holes. PVC pipes have been constructed around more of the burrows, warning people to stay away. They can be found in parks, in church yards, around government buildings, in yards of homes and since owls are so smart, many are around the library. If someone wants to build on a lot that has a burrow, they can’t just fill it in, they have to get a permit first and then they can fill it in. Government encourages people to build around the burrows, but if you can’t, that’s OK, just kill them off.
See photo gallery from Loren’s Florida photography workshop.
I decided to host a photography workshop in Florida based around photographing birds, not because I get excited seeing birds but because I love the challenge of getting a special shot. A mug shot of a bird bores me. Seeing another photo of a bird sitting on a branch or looking around doesn’t do a thing for me. So I always strive to get something different, something that shows personality, something with composition, something that has more elements than just a bird. And I push that upon all my workshop participants.
So I was happy today to get some decent shots during the first full day of the workshop. Yesterday afternoon we went to a preserve east of Orlando that was pretty nice. This morning we made the trek west of Orlando to a county park that is well known to birders and photographers and saw lots of different birds. We missed seeing a bobcat by five minutes, another photographer was happy to show us on his camera what we missed. A woman told us about a pond in Lakeland that has lots of friendly birds, like these pelicans, so we stopped there too.
You never know what is around the next corner, which is one of the things that keeps me heading outside.
See a photo gallery from Loren’s Florida photography workshop.
I am continually entranced by seeing bald eagles so today was nearly an overload. I hosted a workshop in Maryland where dozens of eagles nest and migrate. There is a large dam with a hydro-electric plant that is in the perfect location for eagles heading south as waters freeze up north. Of course, this year the north isn’t frozen yet, so there were only about 35 eagles flying around. Usually there is over 100, but I can’t complain about 35.
They come to the dam because when it is generating power it sucks fish through the turbines which pulverized them or at least stuns them and thus they are easy targets for the eagles. It is such a thrill to see an eagle circling around and then diving down and grabbing a fish out of the water.
Since I was running the workshop, I didn’t take much time to shoot but I did get a few shots off. The weather was great today, sunny and cool unlike yesterday, which was the first day of the workshop. I did some “light painting” of a nearby lighthouse while the workshop attendees made some cool pictures. Light painting is a fun technique where you can light some pretty large objects with a flashlight while doing a long exposure. It was a cold, rainy night and since I was doing the light painting I didn’t shoot any pictures of the lighthouse. I did take time to get a shot of a nearby pier as darkness was settling in.
I’ve photographed dozens of bald eagles, but every time I see one, it is a new thrill for me. Maybe if I moved to Alaska I’d see them everyday and get bored with them, but being on the East Coast, the thrill is there.
During the Vermont Fall Foliage Workshop, we were shooting at a pond and I noticed a big bird flying on the other side. I then saw the white on the head and knew what it was. There aren’t many bald eagles in New England but a fisherman I was chatting with said there was a pair at the pond all summer. I then saw the other one looking like a speck in a tree in the distance.
The eagle was out on a joy ride, circling and soaring overhead for what seemed to be 10 minutes. My neck got stiff from looking up but it was real fun. It didn’t make for the best photo, but it still puts a smile on my face.
My final day in British Columbia was a special one. We took a five hour ride on the Misty Isles sailboat throughout the islands of Desolation Sound. The highlight came quickly as a humpback whale surfaced about forty feet in front of the boat. A couple of other boats were in the area and we all cut our motors to watch the magnificent beast. The large whale came up several more times and then finally took in a big gulp of air and lifted its tail out of the water. Captain Mike said when the tail comes up they are using their body weight to dive deep and you won’t see them again for a long time.
Smoke from distant forest fires created a haze in the surrounding mountains but they still were grand as they rose from the mainland. Captain Mike stopped the boat so everyone could go for a swim, it is a rare place where water is warm enough the swim while snow capped mountains loom nearby. As we were heading back, we saw a harbor seal and her pup sitting on some rocks, they were mighty cute.
That night when my sister sister suggested that we go down to the beach I didn’t anticipate that a special life-long memory was going to happen.
There are organisms in the water that have the same glowing stuff as lightning bugs but it is only displayed when the water is stirred. I don’t know what causes bioluminescence, but it sure is cool.
Lynda and I sat there in the complete darkness of a cloudless and moonless night throwing rocks in the water and watching the splashes glow. It was a special time for me to be with my sister, who I don’t see nearly enough, together on a Canadian beach with only two lights visible on all the other islands as the Milky Way and billions of stars shining brightly above. There were, two lucky kids who grew up among the Indiana cornfields, tossing rocks, seeing the water twinkle and talking about how good ours lives are. I’m fortunate to have experienced it and will treasure that memory forever.
I am blessed.
Click to see my British Columbia photo gallery from the trip.
I photograph a lots dogs at my little studio at The Hungry Hound. They can be loads of fun and they can be a real pain. But once in a while I get a shot that has something special, like tonight when Emerson posed with her dog Rosie. Rosie is a chocolate Labrador Retriever, so is naturally full of life, curious and ready to lick anything that moves. Zany dogs like her are my favorite dogs to shoot because I can get their attention, even if it is just for short periods.
Emerson was a good model too. She enjoyed having her picture taken and followed direction very well. We took lots of photos and when we were done her parents and I were pretty happy with the results. This shot is one her mother picked and then asked if I could make it black & white. I don’t usually suggest black & white since many people aren’t used to seeing images that way any more, but the tonal qualities of the dog, Emerson’s face and her dress really stand out. I really like the way it created a timeless portrait that I hope the family will cherish forever.
Tonight was the annual Halloween costume contest at The Hungry Hound where dogs put up with their owners desire to make them look funny. Some dogs handle it better than others, wearing a wig and a hat isn’t something that comes natural to many pooches. My favorite of the evening, and the official winner, was Gia, dressed like a funky hippee from the ’60s. Gia was far out and groovy and matched the look of her handlers. She also was good at posing in the studio. There are more photos over on The Hungry Hound’s Facebook page.
Bald eagles have always amazed me. My first encounter was when I was 17 and visiting my sister at her British Columbia island cabin. I had taken her one-person sailboat out into a small harbor and was just floating along when an eagle swooped down and grabbed a fish from the water. I still can envision its talons flexing and then locking into the fish. It seems like it was ten feet away from me, I’m sure that is my memory glorifying the event, but I think of it often.
Today as I was driving from Vermont to New Jersey, heading south on Route 7 just north of Bennington, VT., when a large bald eagle appeared in front of me. Surprise doesn’t quite explain my reaction. You’d think eagles would be fairly common in Vermont, but they’re not. In fact, Vermont was the last state in the U.S. to have a pair of breeding eagles. There are lots more eagles in New Jersey. Go figure.
The eagle was flying low and I watched as it landed in a tree that I had just passed, right along the road. So I quickly became that crazed driver you hate on the highway. I pulled off as an 18-wheeler beared down on me, I did a quick U-turn in front of oncoming traffic and parked about 200 yards from the bird.
I grabbed my camera, put on a 70-200mm lens with a 2X teleconverter and decided to slowly walk toward the perched eagle. Critters seem to know the human shape and eagles are pretty skittish but sometimes they don’t understand what is slowly coming toward them if the shape isn’t really humandoid and it can’t see a face. So I held the camera to my face as I slowly took steps. It took me 10 minutes and my arms were getting tired but without lowering the camera I was able to get within 20 yards of the tree. I’m extremely respectful of space in nature and while I wanted to get closer for a better picture, I didn’t want to disturb the eagle or make it think humans are a threat.
As I’m shooting, I heard another large bird calling to my right. I couldn’t tell what it was but it wasn’t another eagle. It must have been a crow. It did make the eagle anxious and it quickly took off. I grabbed some shots as it flew back around me. I noticed another car had stopped behind mine but the people didn’t get out, I appreciate them respecting what I was doing. The eagle made a circle and looked like it landed deeper in the woods. I waited a few minutes but then resumed my trip with a special smile on my face.
I witnessed one those things in nature today that I doubt if I will ever see again. I went to a state park in Cape May near the lighthouse to see what birds might be around this early in the year. As expected, there wasn’t much activity but I went to a blind on a pond to take a look. I’ve gone to the blind a dozen times before and probably didn’t shoot a frame and I really didn’t expect anything different this time.
As I walked in there were a couple of ducks swimming around and soon a Canada goose landed to my left and went into the tall grass. In a few minutes a mute swan swam in from my right. It paddled right in front of me as I shot away. I noticed the swam wasn’t swimming in a normal, smooth way, it was lunging, like it was doing the breast stroke. The swan headed for the goose and the goose flopped into the pond and starting swimming. The swan headed out toward the goose and quickly caught up. I learned swans swim faster than geese.
The swan got right behind the goose and the goose flew about 30 feet and then landed again. The swan quickly got on the goose’s tail and the goose flew another 30 feet, landing in the pond. The two raced around the five acre pond a few times and then the goose took to the air. As I was watching the goose fly, I heard the swan taking off and I learned that swans fly faster than geese. The swan would get right on the goose’s tail, the goose would dive and the swan would be right back on the goose. They circled the pond, flew up and down as the swan tried biting the goose in midair. Lucky for me they were going right over me and I was ready. I had a 70-200 mm lens with a 2X teleconverter and filled the frame as the swan tried to take a nip of the goose.
The goose landed in the pond and the water chase was on again. Three more times across the pond and they did the aerial chase again. The goose landed in some tall grass and was safe. That was until two other geese landed on the pond and the goose who was getting bullied started honking at them. I was thinking the goose should shut up or the swan was going to know where he was. Well, the goose flies out and lands over by the other two geese. They looked at him and flew off. I don’t know if the goose had BO or was a jerk, but obviously he wasn’t liked by swans or geese. As soon as the two geese left, here comes the swan and the chase is on again.
After nearly an hour, I left and they were still swimming around the pond. When I go back to Cape May for my photo workshop in May, I’ll see if they are still on the chase.
I get amused by stupid people.
There is a report on Sky News about a man in Belaus being attacked by a beaver while trying to take a photo of the large rodent. Wild animals are called wild for a reason and when squares up on your, it is time to retreat.
As you can see in the video, the beaver was minding his own business and got tired of the fisherman turned beaver paparazzi. A main artery in the guy’s leg was severed by the beaver and he bled to death even though his friends tried to stop the bleeding.
Beaver attacks are rare and according to experts those animals that do go for humans are usually rabid, says Sky News.
However, they are not unheard of.
Earlier this week a video was posted on YouTube showing a man in the Tver region, northwest of Moscow, running away from a beaver who charged at him as he was filming in the area.
Last year in the US two girls were mauled by a beaver in a lake in Virginia as they swam. They suffered serious bite and scratch injuries. A man was also attacked in New York and an elderly woman in Washington.
This is an amazing clip from the Duke Farms live eagle camera. A not-too-smart hawk tried landing in the nest to steal the eggs. It didn’t work out so well for the hawk, but the eagles had a fine lunch.
Dukes Farms is one of my favorite places photograph since they opened the estate last year. The eagles are in a restricted area that you can’t access, which is good, but there are lots of other photo opportunities on the grounds. It is well worth visiting, not only is it free, it is a beautiful place.
I checked out a couple of parks along the Gulf this morning and then headed to the famous rookery in Venice. Unlike yesterday at Gatorland, this is a much smaller rookery that has been preserved by the Audubon Society. It is right off a major highway, smack in the middle of way too many people, but the little park is just what the birds need.
The rookery itself is a little island with a bunch of small trees in a little pond. It is the perfect place for the birds, alligators live in the pond, protecting the birds and people are just far enough away that the birds don’t care about us.
A nice pavilion is near the pond, so people can sit under cover and watch the birds all day. It is free and always open, luckily I noticed a donation box, this is worth as much as the $20 I paid at Gatorland.
When I arrived, a light rain was ending but there were five other photographers there. You can walk around the entire pond, so the light is always coming from the right direction. Within 30 minutes the others were gone, I didn’t take it personally, but I was happy to be the only one shooting.
There was plenty of action. Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Anhingas, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Glossy Ibises, Green Herons, Tricolored Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons all make the island their home. I saw young Anhingas sticking their heads literally down the throats of their parents to get food. Two young Great Blue Herons went crazy when mom arrived with food. There was constant screeching coming from the nests as little loud-mouths were yelling for food. It was quite the scene.
I ended the day along the beach in Ft. Myers, shooting shore birds. It was quite a two-day adventure.
See a photo gallery from my two days 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.
I went to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge today to see what might be flying through. I have several favorite places, some require a little hiking and I was feeling lazy so I drove to the spots that have easy access. I pulled up to the largest pond that you can park beside and there were a couple of people out taking photos.
On the far side of the pond was a bunch of ducks. This time of year usually the only thing I see floating is Canada geese. When I see them, I don’t even stop, but the ducks looked interesting. The ducks were pretty far away, too far to get a very close photo. The other two people with cameras were moving around quite a bit, which kept the ducks away. When everyone stood still for a while, the ducks would slowly move closer and then one of them move around and the ducks would move away.
The two camera toters finally gave up and left, I guess the ducks were too far away. That was fine with me, so I froze in place and the ducks slowly got closer. The ducks were diving and popping back up, they were fun to watch. I remember reading that diving ducks use their feet to help them take off. I don’t know why, but they run across the water as they take to the air. They were almost in camera range when something gave them a little spook and several took off to the other side of the pond. I didn’t spook them but I was ready. They weren’t in the light I wanted but it is a fun photo anyway.
And once again, waiting for the shot pays off. The other two with cameras left without anything, if they would have been quiet and hung out another 10 minutes they may have made a shot.
I’ve shot a lot of ducks, but I don’t know what kind this one is. I looked it up in my bird books, but I still am not sure. If you have any thoughts, let me know.