Bok Tower

Bok Tower Gardens is a beautiful garden in Lake Wales, Florida, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. The gardens surround the historic Bok Tower, whose carillon bells ring out through the gardens on a daily basis. I love to visit Bok Tower for flower photography, as well as during bird migration. It's a good place for small birds like Eastern Towhees, Tufted Titmice, and Brown Thrashers. It's also a reliable location in Central Florida for Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.

Photography Advice

I usually take my long lens for bird photography, and a second body with a macro lens for flower photos.



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Bok Tower Blog Archives

  • Playing Peek-a-Boo and Hide-and-Seek at Bok Tower

    Playing Peek-a-Boo and Hide-and-Seek at Bok Tower

    Bok Tower birding was great - we found Red-headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and a Painted Bunting
  • Red-Headed Woodpeckers at Bok Tower

    Red-Headed Woodpeckers at Bok Tower

    Fun morning photographing the Red-headed Woodpeckers at Bok Tower, along with the visiting Rufous Hummingbird! The Blue Jays showed off too
  • Bok Tower in Bloom

    Bok Tower in Bloom

    A few weeks ago I spent a Saturday morning at Bok Tower, a wonderful garden in Lake Wales, Florida.  It was architected by Frederick Law Olmstead and  dedicated by President Coolidge in 1929.  The tower itself is fun to photograph, but what attracted me was the possibility of migrant warblers.  I seem to find a lot of them on good days.  There was also a Rufous Hummingbird that visited there last year, and I was curious to see if one had returned this year.  The great thing is that even on a slow bird day, Bok Tower in bloom is gorgeous and a fun place for flower photography! The hummingbirds typically are easiest to find at the firebush near the Window By the Pond, so I headed there first.  On my way I saw several tiny birds flitting high in the treetops, but they didn’t stay still long enough for me to focus on them.  I suspect I saw my first-of-fall warblers.  The cheerful calls of hummingbirds echoed all over the place as they squabbled in mid-air.  When I got to the Window by the Pond, it took me about five seconds to find a Rufous, who seemed to enjoy …
  • Did I Finally Make a Pleasing Blur?

    Did I Finally Make a Pleasing Blur?

    Some really good photographers obsess over making “pleasing blurs,” and I must admit, when I look at their images, I see glimpses of my own bad shots that I deleted because the bird wouldn’t sit still! But sometimes when I’m out shooting and the action isn’t all that exciting, I’ll take my second body and experiment. Usually I delete the results. But with this one I think I might be onto a nice-looking image. It’s a clump of pink salvia at Bok Tower Gardens. I was waiting for the hummingbirds to come back, and while I waited, I focused my Beast on the clump and then took half-second exposures as I panned the tripod up and down. The light levels were really low that day, so I got away without using neutral density filters. I thought the pink-and-green stripes were kinda pretty. What surprised me most about my experiment was that I needed to pan faster. It seemed so strange to be moving during the exposure, and in order to achieve a nice blur, you really do need to move!
  • Foggy Morning

    Foggy Morning

    My alarm clock played tricks on me this morning.  Not only did it put the clock back an hour for Standard Time, but it also put my wake-up time back an additional hour…so I woke up really early.  Not nice.  Then I saw that the weather forecast was for mostly cloudy and  100% humidity at Circle B till around 9 or 10, which translates to very dense fog.  Never mind…sleep is good! So this is an image I took several weeks ago, at Bok Tower Gardens.  I love the statue there of St. Francis de Assisi, posed with his birds.  It’s so peaceful and nature-friendly that it symbolizes the gardens quite well.  I made several images of the statue, trying different vantage points and zooms.  I decided that I liked the tight crop best.  I added a bit of fog with Nik Color Efex Pro, making this image very appropriate for today!
  • For My Mom

    For My Mom

    Happy B-Day to my mom! Here are the hummer pictures I promised you from Bok. As you can see, our juvie Rufous is turning into a little boy. Look at the red under his throat! He continues to guard the firebushes from the other hummingbirds. I took a little video of him on one of his favorite perches. It’s amazing how active these little guys are, even when they are sitting still. Listen closely and you’ll hear the sounds of other hummers nearby. Video best viewed in Safari or Firefox
  • Gray Cat Meets Gray Catbird

    Gray Cat Meets Gray Catbird

    I saw my first-of-fall Gray Catbird on Sunday at Bok Tower. Then we had one in our backyard tonight, along with a male Painted Bunting. Squirt was very happy to finally meet his namesake gray catbird. Now Whiskey wants to know when he’ll get to see a Black-and-White Warbler!
  • Interesting Branch-Mates

    Interesting Branch-Mates

    Yesterday I wrote about seeing my first Rufous Hummingbird and how the bird was very territorial. Well, she had competition from this mockingbird. Mockingbirds are the most territorial birds in my backyard, especially during nesting season. Yesterday this mocker had laid claim to the same firebush as the hummingbird. They ended up defending the same bush – while seated on the same branch! I wish I had gotten a picture of the two of them together. You can imagine the large mockingbird and the tiny hummer seated almost side by side. It was a case of “too much lens…” :)
  • My First Rufous Hummingbird

    My First Rufous Hummingbird

    This morning I headed to Bok Tower to search for hummingbirds and migrants. The gardens staff have worked hard to attract hummingbirds to the area, and they have certainly succeeded. I’ve never seen so many hummers there before. Clumps of hummingbird friendly plants are tucked all throughout the gardens, especially red salvias and firebush. I knew of a particularly large clump of firebush near the Window by the Pond, so I headed there first. And out hopped my first Rufous Hummingbird into the open to perch on a nice branch for me! I couldn’t believe my luck. It was such fun to watch these tiny birds swarming all over the firebush. I think there were several Rufous, but it was hard to tell because this gal (female? juvenile?) was being very territorial. She had claimed the biggest firebush, and she wasn’t about to let any other hummer nectar from it. Much fussing ensued. I could hear the whoosh! of their wings as they flew and fought with each other. After awhile, I watched them land back in the same places, perched in the tall oak trees above the firebush. They are pretty predictable little birds. And such fun to photograph!
  • Anniversary at Bok Tower Gardens

    Anniversary at Bok Tower Gardens

    It’s hard to believe that Rich and I have been married for seven years.  We were married at Bok Tower Gardens, so we decided to go back there today in honor of our anniversary.  Rich didn’t mind that I brought The Beast along.  We saw lots of great baby birds. Since it’s our anniversary, I’ll be nice and post a turtle picture for Rich.  (He does remind me regularly that this site was inspired by cats and turtles…long before the birding craze began!)  So here are three turtles who were sunning themselves at the Window by the Pond. There were Blue Jays all over.  These common birds do not hang out in my backyard, so it’s always fun to see them.  I spotted a juvenile bird feeding with its mother at the bird feeder (squirrel feeder!) by the tower overlook.  This adult was near the Visitor’s Center.  After years of saying I wanted a longer lens, it’s nice to complain that I clipped his tail because I needed to take off my teleconverter… :) Carolina Wrens could be heard singing throughout the gardens.  When I finally spotted one out in the open, he was in shade.  I didn’t have my …
  • Sunset and Symphony Concert at Bok Tower Gardens

    Sunset and Symphony Concert at Bok Tower Gardens

    Rich and I went to the Sunset and Symphony concert at Bok Tower Gardens tonight. The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra played a bunch of fun music, including “Harry’s Wondrous World” from Harry Potter, “The Sound of Music”, and a medley from “Fiddler on the Roof.” It was really cold out (for Florida) and we were happy that we’d bundled up and taken a blanket. The Gardens was really well prepared for the huge crowd. They had parking and mass exit all planned out. It was still sunny when we first got there, but it was pitch black when we left, and they lit lots of little torches along the paths. I couldn’t resist trying to capture the glow: While the music from the orchestra was great, I was most excited to hear the real live carillonneur play. They lit the tower at sunset and I had fun photographing it (yay for my new gloves that allow my hands to stay warm at the same time!) The light changes very quickly at sunset. These last pictures were taken within minutes of each other.
  • Peaceful Morning at Bok Tower

    Peaceful Morning at Bok Tower

    Rich and I decided to go birding at Bok Tower this morning. It’s been a while since we’ve gone there, and Rich says it’s starting to be cool enough to go birding with me again. :) There were tons of birds! We couldn’t turn around without turning into a Gray Catbird. “Maaaw! Maaa! Go home and feed your gray cat!” they kept calling to us. Jays, Brown Thrashers, and Eastern Towhees abounded. We heard but did not see Wood Ducks at the Window by the Pond. Perhaps the most surprising was the abundance of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, who we heard all over the gardens. I drove Rich crazy watching and waiting until I got this one in great light, nectaring on some salvia bushes: I had said to Rich that I wanted to see a whole assortment of migrant birds (which we did not see), and a new bird. Well, we were walking along the paths when two little fuss-budgets popped out of the bushes. They paused for a split second for me to snap a few pictures, then continued on their way. They were Ovenbirds! I’ve never seen one of those. The birdwatchers at Saddle Creek Park have been seeing …
  • Songbirds at Bok Tower Gardens

    Songbirds at Bok Tower Gardens

    A rose-breasted grosbeak was recently seen at Bok Tower Gardens, so this morning Rich and I went to bird-watch at Bok.  We didn’t see a grosbeak, but we did see some fun songbirds. The first bird we saw this morning was a male Eastern Towhee.  He was on the ground, rooting through the grass, digging for worms.   His call really does sound like the “Drink your tea!” mnemonic on our bird CD.  Then he took the worms over to his baby and started to feed it.  A few minutes later, the birds flew into the tree right over my head, and I was able to snap a few pretty clear shots of the baby. Up by the tower, the swans were happy to pose for me (and beg for food!) There were tons of blue jays and cardinals out today.  I think I heard a bunch of baby cardinals, but I didn’t see any. I heard tons of great-crested flycatchers today.   I followed them from tree to tree, but I wasn’t able to get any decent close-ups.  Rich noticed this bird nesting box by the Exedra outlook area, and we realized that the flycatchers were flying in and out of …
  • Springtime at Bok Tower

    Springtime at Bok Tower

    Last year Rich and I went to Bok Tower a few weeks after the azaleas bloomed, and I was mad to have missed the blooms.  So this year we went while the azaleas were in bloom.  They were pretty, but not as dramatic as what we expect to see at Callaway Gardens in a few weeks. The paths were so pretty lined with flowering bushes. Dyeyo, Rich, and I had fun bird-watching at Bok Tower.  We saw the most birds over by Window by the Pond, near the bird feeders.  I was amazed  to see several painted buntings!  One of the caretakers said that the painteds had arrived last winter and returned this winter.  There were several males hopping around.   I didn’t get a good picture of the buntings, but I did get a decent one of this black and white warbler: The caretaker also told us about another feeder near the visitor center, and when we found it, we saw this red-bellied woodpecker eating his breakfast.  He didn’t appreciate the strangers watching him eat!  He’d hop to the feeder, grab a bite, then fly higher to eat it.  He’s really a bit big to eat from a tube feeder, …
  • Bird-watching at Bok Tower

    Bird-watching at Bok Tower

    Rich and I went to Bok Tower this morning to do some bird-watching. The swans were posing in the pond around the tower, and I found that my new warming filter made for some wonderful pictures. I played with my filters as I took pictures of the tower.  I found that I was able to get a better exposure using split neutral density filters. This tufted titmouse was hanging out by the bird feeder at the Window by the Pond. There are so many squirrels at Bok Tower!  They are all over the place, especially in the parking lot.  A couple of them even tried to climb in the car with us as I packed up my camera equipment.  What silly litter critters!
  • Springtime at Bok Tower Gardens

    Springtime at Bok Tower Gardens

    This morning we went to Bok Tower. Supposedly the hummingbirds are starting to migrate back, but we didn’t see any. The swans sure posed for us though!
  • A winter ramble around Bok Tower Gardens

    A winter ramble around Bok Tower Gardens

    Bok Tower is one of my favorite places to go. The gardens are beautiful, the wildlife is fun to watch, and the trip is a nice escape from the real world. Today we saw hummingbirds! They are wintering at Bok Tower! The swans were posing, and I had fun playing with my new diffuser filter. I also had fun playing with my new split neutral density filters. I really liked this picture of the tower with the swans.
  • Hummers wintering at Bok Tower

    Hummers wintering at Bok Tower

    Rich and I went to Bok Tower this morning. The swans swam right up to us and let me take some cool pictures, but we didn’t really see too many other birds. We heard some exciting sounds though – there are definitely some hummingbirds wintering at Bok Tower, even if we didn’t see them!
  • Bok Tower hummingbirds photographed in better light

    Bok Tower hummingbirds photographed in better light

    After seeing hummingbirds at Bok Tower last week, but not getting any really good pictures because of the cloudy day, we resolved to go back today when it was sunny and try again. The hummingbirds that we’re seeing at Bok are all males, which complements my set of females from Callaway Gardens nicely. Rich patiently waited with my by a clump of red flowers until this guy appeared. On one of the back paths by Window on the Pond was this white eyed vireo, the first I’ve ever seen. The Pine Ridge trail was virtually devoid of birds, except for this Eastern Phoebe, who posed on the top of a branch for me. Someday I’m going to see a scrub jay there!
  • Hummingbirds at Bok Tower!

    Hummingbirds at Bok Tower!

    Today was a great day for migrating birds at Bok Tower. We were walking around by Exedra when we heard the unmistakable sound of hummingbirds. We’d not seen hummers in Florida, so we were very excited. We looked around and found several hummers nectaring on salvia and hummingbird bush. Cool! Now we don’t have to drive all the way to Callaway Gardens to see hummers!! What a difference a little turn of the head makes! This probably isn’t this bird’s most dignified pose… Then as we wove our way down to the Window by the Pond, we came across an American Beautyberry plant with this first-fall Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. This is a rare migrant in Polk County, and very fun to see. I also took this picture of the gardens in general, at sunrise. Isn’t it pretty? I love this place!
  • Hangin’ out with Dyeyo at Bok Tower Gardens

    Hangin’ out with Dyeyo at Bok Tower Gardens

    Dyeyo met me at Bok Tower this morning for some bird-watching. We had a great time roaming around in the beautiful gardens. I lent him my Canon Digital Rebel while I used my awesome new Canon 40D. He took some good pictures, too! This cardinal met us in the pine trees right behind the visitor center. She didn’t mind when I got closer and closer to photograph her. This juvenile cardinal looks pretty scruffy! He’s sitting on an American Beautyberry bush, which is like a birdie magnet. I also liked this female cardinal picture. She was flitting in the trees by the Window by the Pond. There’s something very pleasing about the detail in her feathers and the soft green background. There are squirrels all over the place at Bok Tower! This one was so cute that I couldn’t resist taking his picture. At Window by the Pond, this green heron was enjoying the food that the caretakers scatter for the birds on stumps in the pond. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a green heron before. Of course we couldn’t go to Bok Tower without going to the pond at the base of the tower to say hello …
  • Photography with Friends at Bok Tower Gardens

    Photography with Friends at Bok Tower Gardens

    Poor Rich! He was outnumbered by software people this morning! Juan and Pavel joined us for a photography morning at Bok Tower. It was a lot of fun.