Last weekend I visited Lake Morton in hopes of photographing swan courtship. My friend Kim recently posted an amazing image of two “love birds” whose necks came together to form a heart on the lake. It’s a touching reminder that it’s my favorite time of the year: baby bird season! I can’t wait for the cygnets to grace the shores of the lake with their sweetness and their antics. Alas, the swans did not cooperate for me on my visit. But I did see so many other fun things to photograph that I can’t be disappointed. Nature shares with me what it wants to share, and if I could always anticipate what I’ll see, there would hardly be any fun in it!
So my morning started off with sunrise and American White Pelicans. Small groups of pelicans were clustered on the brick walls lining the lake. I quickly realized that they would fly off soon after sunrise, and that I had a few fleeting minutes to photograph them while the sun cast gorgeous orange light on the lake behind them. So I did what you’re not supposed to do: I shot into the sunrise and added lots of exposure compensation to guarantee good details in the whites of the birds. Then I took the images into Photomatix Pro and applied some HDR techniques to the background. I’m loving the resulting orange background tones of the images. I think this was the closest I’ve been to American White Pelicans. I got headshots with my 500mm and full-frame camera. What a way to start the morning!
It was a sunny, chilly morning, but it was so wonderful to be outside after being cooped up in an office for the past few months. I meandered around the lake, pausing when I came across some Ring-necked Ducks standing on rocks in the shade of a few cypress trees. I love the lighting in that area. The sun’s rays cast very dramatic light on the dark-toned water and still trees. The ducks cooperated while I made a few images. It reminded me of when I saw the Muscovy ducklings there a few years back – my first opportunity to see Father Goose in action!
The White Ibis were out in full force. They are in their springtime breeding plumage right now, with bright red beaks and legs to match. Groups of them were all over the lake shore. I lay down in the wet grass to see them at eye level. You can see why my mom calls them her “yard crew” when you watch them hunting for insects in the dirt!
A Palm Warbler flitted by and landed on a branch in front of me. I got about 2 clicks on him before he flew off again. I’m not sure what was obstructing the camera on the bottom of the frame, but it adds a nice white out-of-focus region. While I do enjoy playing with filters from time to time, this image is straight from my camera – with just a small crop added.
I passed last year’s juvenile swans, who still stick together and make little cooing sounds like they did on the day they were born. The juvies are still distinguishable from other swans due to their lighter-colored beaks, which haven’t yet gotten to be bright orange. This one had some moss stuck in his mouth. He tossed his head around repeatedly trying to free it. Poor guy, I felt badly watching him fight it! He eventually worked it free and I found that I had some fun action shots…
I almost walked right past this Ruddy Duck, who was sunning himself on a rock on the lake shore. Ruddy Ducks are winter migrant visitors in Florida. They will soon be heading back up north to breed. This male has a bright blue beak, which makes him easy to identify, even when he’s far away in the middle of the lake. He patiently posed for me as I snapped pictures of him. What a nice bird.
I was getting ready to leave when the lake shared one last surprise with me: the Black-necked Swans are building a nest! I’ve seen Mute Swan cygnets and Black Swan cygnets born at Lake Morton, but this will be the first time that the city’s imported Black-necked Swans breed. They sat quietly at their nest site, moving grass with their beaks to form their nest. I was hand-holding the Beast that morning, so I hesitated to do a video because I knew I couldn’t hold the camera still. But iMovie’s stabilization feature works pretty well, so here’s a little clip of the nesting swans, with many hopes for cute babies in their future!
Want to learn more about nature photography at Lake Morton?
Check out my Lake Morton page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!