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.

Reddish Egret Dance at Eco Pond

I decided to head back down to Eco Pond on Monday morning to spend some more time trying to photograph the birds.  Last time I was there I had to rush off and leave before the birds had really become very active.  This time I could stay until it got too hot or the birds left whichever happened first.

Just like on Saturday, there were about the same number of birds and variety of birds.  Although this time I also saw a pileated woodpecker.  The pileated woodpecker looks like woody woodpecker the cartoon with the tall triangular pointed red head.  I would have like to have captured him in flight but he never got close enough.

I did get some more shots of the lone reddish egret fishing/dancing across the pond.  The reddish egret was very active this morning and was using all of his fishing tricks to catch breakfast.  He did his dance across the water as well as his raised wings pretend shade trick.  It was if nothing else entertaining to watch.

The roseate spoonbills still were not very active and just sat across the pond on the dead branches before eventually just flying away.  I will give it a few more weeks before trying back to see if more birds have arrived and the activity level increases.

Before heading home I also walked some of the Coastal Prairie Trail at the south-west end of the flamingo campground.  I plan on coming back when I have the time and energy to walk the entire length.  All in all it was a good morning of photography and time spent in the Everglades.

Click on the thumbnails for the full image.

Photography to be sold at RF Orchids

I am excited to announce that my photography will be available for sale at RF Orchids in Homestead, Florida.  RF Orchids address is 28100 SW 182nd Ave  Homestead, FL 33030.  RF Orchids sells high quality orchids of every variety in addition to fine art.

Presently, I have on display four (4) photos printed on canvas and gallery wrapped.  There are two birds/avian photos, one roseate spoonbill and one great blue heron, and two (2) flower photos, one ghost orchid and one cardinal air plant/bromeliad.

Roseate Spoonbill 16×20.  Great Blue Heron 16×24.  Black and White Ghost Orchid 10×20 limited edition #23/120.  Hybrid Cardinal Air Plant/Bromeliad 16×24 limited edition #21/120.

Eco Pond, Cypress Dome and Pine Glades Lake Sunset

Had a free day and decided to get up early and head down to Everglades National Park.  I decided to start at Eco Pond in the morning to see if the birds were active and then work my way back north.  Today was a good bird day.  Eco Pond was full of Roseate Spoonbills, Snowy Egrets, Great Herons, Tri-Color Herons, Pelicans and the ocassional overflying Osprey.  They were also very active foraging around in the shallow water for fish and other food.  One thing I noticed was how low the water in Eco Pond had gotten since my last visit.  The East Side of the pond is almost completely dry.  I got a few good shots of some landing Roseate Spoonbills.  The one I captured was a juvenille spoonbill.

After the birds left Eco Pond I walked around and found a some osprey nests but they were not very active.  I left Flamingo and started heading back north.  My next stop was Snake Bight.  I brought my bike and rode the path down to the end of the trail.  I saw a few birds along the way but nothing motivated me to stop and get out my camera.  At the end of the trail is a boardwalk.  The tide was out exposing a large mudflat.  A few birds were around but nothing better than I had already shot.  I did note that this might be a good sunset location and may come back to try it out before summer officially arrives.

After Snake Bight I stopped by Mahogany Hammock to look for some barred owls but not were willing to show themselves.  I kept driving north to a Cypress Dome I found a few weeks back.  I hiked into the Dome and took some photos of the blooming Bromeliads.  They were everywhere in the dome.  I also came across the same water moccasins I saw during my last visit.  One of the moccasins was not very happy and tried to bite me.  Luckily I was out of his reach.  I still got a few good shots of him before I left.

My next stop was another cypress dome farther north called Movie Dome.  Last time I hiked into it the water was still about a foot deep or so.  This time it was completely dry except for a shallow pool in the middle of the dome.  I walked around the dome but did not take any pictures this time.

My last stop was Pine Glades Lake for a sunset.  I captured some sunrays that were streaming from the sun giving the shot a unique look.  Pine Glades Lake is one of my favorite sunset locations in Everglades National Park.  After the sunset I headed home.  On the way home I got a suprise panther sighting.  This was my first panther sighting since I started coming to the park almost 8 years ago.  The panther was walking the main park road and slipped into the bushes when he saw me coming.  It was too dark to try and use the camera but it was still great to witness a free roaming panther.

Everglades Sunrise, Birds in Flight and Cypress Dome Walk

I went out last week to capture a sunrise down in Flamingo, Florida.  I took a few reflection pictures across the water as the sun came up.  After the sunrise I went to Eco Pond to try and capture some bird in flight pictures.  The birds have started to thin out after reaching a peak a few weeks ago.  There were still a good number of Roseate Spoonbills, Egrets, Heron’s and other birds but not like there had been the last few weeks.  I ended up with a few I liked.

After the birds stopped performing, I started heading back toward the park entrance.  I made one last stop to explore a cypress dome I had never walked into before.  It was a great find and I plan on going back to try and take more pictures there in the future.  Inside the cypress dome, I found resident gators, birds, and three water moccasins.  I also found numerous orchids of different varieties including some very large and rare cigar orchids.