Everglades Coalition Conference 2017 and JN Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

I had the opportunity to attend my 4th Everglades Coalition Conference this year to continue learning about how I can help preserve and promote the natural resources that I enjoy capturing through the lens of my camera (see prior conference posts here and here). This year the conference was held just across the bridge from Sanibel/Captiva island and a short drive to the JN Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge. I arrived at the conference a day early to give me an opportunity to visit JN Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge with my camera and see if I could capture some good images of their famous birds.

Last year my job kept me very busy traveling and did not leave much time for me to engage in any photography. Therefore, one of my goals for 2017 is to make some time to engage in the hobbies I love such as photography and fishing. To kick start this goal I spent a few hours in Ding Darling before the conference started. I managed to capture a few good images of some of the native birds and even captured a very vibrant sunrise.

One of the main things I learned about Ding Darling was that the tides have a larger influence on the birding than does the time of day. In most places the best time for seeing the largest variety and number of birds is to arrive early in the morning and to a lesser extent late in the afternoon. For Ding Darling this is only true if this time of day also corresponds with the occurrence of a low tide. On my trip low tide occurred just after noon. Therefore, when I arrived in the morning there were very few birds. I spent some time exploring the refuge and identifying some good future photography locations. I almost gave up thinking that I was a little to early in the season to see large number of birds, but decided to come back after lunch.

When I returned to the park after lunch the tide was nearing low tide and the birds were congregated in large numbers wading across the shallow flats looking for food. The good news was that I was able to spend some time watching the birds wading and eating, the bad news was the harsh midday lighting made quality photography difficult. To combat this I tried to photography birds that were located in sheltered areas or were sitting with good side lighting versus overhead or back-lit. I still managed to capture some good images but I they still exhibit strong contrast of highlights and shadows.

In the late afternoon I noticed we had some great high thin clouds that I thought would make a great reflector of color after the sunset. Therefore, I decided to stick around in anticipation of a good sunset. I was not disappointed, about 15 minutes after the sunset the sky lit up a vibrant yellow, orange, pink and purple. The thin clouds absorbed this color and reflected it back down on to the shallow calm waters to amplify the colorful show. Unfortunately, I did not have any great com-positional options to compliment the great colors. I like to use foreground subjects to anchor my photos and give my photography depth. The best I could come up with at this location was using the fast tidal flow from a nearby culvert to create a moving leading line to distant birds and ultimately the vibrant sky. It works but only because the sunset was so colorful.

While I was there exploring I also came across one large and one small otter walking down the main road and swimming in one of the tidal pools. Of course I did not have my camera in my hands when I saw them and by the time I came back with it they had moved on. I saw both of them around culvert 6 at different times making me think there is likely a family residing somewhere nearby.

I recommend stopping by Ding Darling if you are in the area. It is a nicely maintained refuge and I enjoyed my time there. However, for birding I believe there are equal or better locations in the southern everglades. Therefore, I don’t know that I would recommend traveling to Ding Darling specifically for birding if you did not live nearby or if you were not already in the area. Additionally, the birds were typically fairly far away requiring a long focal length (greater than 400mm) to generate quality closeups. Also, I was there on a Wednesday and Thursday and there were still large crowds all day long. This has a tendency to take away from the general nature experience.

All bird images in the below gallery were taken using my 70-200 mark ii with 2x iii teleconverter. Most images were also cropped to give the appearance a longer focal length was used.

New York, New York Sunrise and Sunsets

My wife surprised me for our anniversary with a trip to New York City. I have never been to New York primarily because I never really had any real desire to go there. From my choice of Photography subjects you can probably tell that for fun I prefer to get away from crowds and big cities not visit them. However, after returning from my trip I can say that I had a good time and enjoyed my first visit. The history and architecture of New York were very interesting to me. I will likely plan a return trip when I can plan to specifically focus on capturing some creative city-scape images.

This past trip my wife had packed with things to do and see and the weather was less than ideal so my photography opportunities were limited. I still managed to capture a couple of good images of the city, Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

I used my dedicated compact travel lens during this trip which is the Tamron 28-300. Image quality is good for what I use it for plus, if I did not own it I would likely leave my camera at home on most non-dedicated photography trips as it is inconvenient to carry a bunch of lenses with you for pleasure vacations.

Fort Myers Beach Sunsets

My whole family decided to take a family vacation this year to Fort Myers Beach. We all had a great time and Jackson had a blast hanging out with his cousins. I also used this opportunity to add to my collection of beach sunsets. We had some great clouds and great sunsets almost every night we were there. For one of the sunsets I had to have someone hold an umbrella over my camera because there was a light rain falling. This resulted in an almost uniform orange glow across the sky as the sun set. It made for a unique and very colorful photo.

Bahia Honda Bridge

My wife has requested that I capture a creative photo of the Bahia Honda Bridge to put on one of the walls in our house. I had a vision of the image I wanted to capture and so I headed down the keys chain to see if I could make her happy. I couldn’t. The image I envisioned needed the sun to be setting at a further Azimuth south. Unfortunately, it will not be in the position I want until later on in the fall. I will plan to return in another 6 months or so and try again. I still managed to capture a nice pleasing image but not what I wanted for the particular space on our wall.

Bahia Honda Sunset

Cityscapes

While traveling on business to Jacksonville and Tallahassee I snuck in some photography time and captured some Cityscapes just at or after sunset. I tried to use the moving car lights to create some interest and give the image an active feel. I like the results of both images. One is downtown Jacksonville and the other is the Florida Capital in downtown Tallahassee.

NASCAR Championship 2015 at Homestead Miami Speedway

I had the opportunity once again to do some freelance work for the local newspaper and photograph the 2016 NASCAR Championship race at Homestead Miami Speedway. This year proved to be more exciting than last year. I also managed to capture a signature sunset shot with sunburst under the sky boxes over turn 1. The image also captured the last lap led by Jeff Gordon prior to his retirement.

Myakka State Park

I had a conference to attend in the Tampa area and decided to bring my camera with me and stop by Myakka River State Park on my way back south to Miami. I first visited Myakka years ago when I was only 10 or so but remember being impressed with its numerous and large alligators. I returned about 4 years ago for the first time since I was 10 and spent a day exploring and hiking some of the trails. This time I did not have much time to spend in the park but still enjoyed what little time I did have there.

I managed to capture some interesting landscape shots and even tracked a few deer that where skittish but curious about my presence. All in all it was a good trip. One of these days I would like to return to spend some time kayaking the river and/or camp in the campground.

Sand Key Beach Sunset

While visiting family in Largo, Florida I took my camera to Sand Key Beach to see if I could capture a sunset. I grew up in Largo and have not been back to Sand Key Beach since I left for college many, many years ago. It looked just liked I remembered it. I captured one sunset image I really liked with the curved moon low on the horizon just above the setting sun. I used a long shutter speed to smooth out the water and saturate the colors. I was hoping for a little bit more movement feel in the water near the rocks but still like the final result.

Coco Cay Bahamas

My wife and I decided to take a quick weekend getaway to the Bahamas aboard a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship. It was only a 3 day itinerary but it was nice to leave the borders of Florida if only for a few days. We spent some time in Nassau and then went to Royal Caribbean’s private island Coco Cay. I have been to the Bahamas a multitude of times but never to Coco Cay. It was a nice little tourist trap but probably not somewhere I would be quick to try and return to. I did enjoy there little reef area where there were a good number of colorful rocks, sea fans, coral and of course tropical fish.

I opted to use my new Outex underwater cover over my older T2i instead of my Canon 5D Mark iii. I am glad I did because I accidentally hit a rock while chasing a fish causing a break in the seal and letting just enough water in to brick the camera. However, before the camera died I did manage to get some decent underwater shots of some of the tropical fish including a flag yellow tail. I have used the Outex cover numerous times before with no problems and even a few time since. The failure was a result of my bumping the rock with the front glass element that seals around the neoprene cover. I then did not surface to check to make sure the seal was intact. Instead I kept chasing fish and ultimately ended up with about a tablespoon of water inside the cover. This still would not have likely been a problem except I started shooting directly straight up which caused the water to eventually find a weakness in the camera body and short it out. Moral of the story is check your seal periodically especially when you bump underwater objects with it.

Below are some the images I captured before the water intrusion.

Perseid Meteor Shower 2015

The conditions for the Perseid Meteor Shower this year were ideal so myself and a photographer friend, Robert Chaplin, ran out to the Everglades to see if we could capture some in photographs. It turned out we could.

For this meteor shower we had planned to head over to the Big Cypress National Preserve but due to less than ideal weather conditions made a last minute call to head south to Flamingo in Everglades National Park instead. Except for the mosquitoes it turned out to be a good decision that resulted in some good images. I even managed to capture a lightning bolt to go along with the milky way and meteors.

The Flamingo campground area provided a good variety of foreground subject to use to anchor the vast sky and compliment the shooting stars. The meteor shower peaked between 3 and 4:30 in the morning. During the peak I was seeing a meteor almost every second with numerous bright fireballs.

It was definitely worth the mosquito bites and the lack of sleep. I am already looking forward to Decembers Geminids.