Beyond the Backyard

Gray January Morning at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive

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Last week I headed to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (LAWD) one gray, foggy morning. I didn’t have high expectations for photography with the low light, but the wildlife drive is always a fun trip.

Purple Gallinule
Purple Gallinule

I didn’t spend much time at the Lust Gate entrance because it was too dark / foggy, and the breeze kept the little birds from posing for my camera. So as I approached the Crazy U, one of my first birds was this Purple Gallinule. Then I finally spotted a bird that I’ve been chasing at the wildlife drive for several years – the Gray-headed Swamphen. The Swamphen basically looks like a larger version of the Purple Gallinule. It is native to India and Asia, and has established a range in South Florida that apparently extends up to LAWD in the wintertime.

Gray-headed Swamphen
Gray-headed Swamphen

Although the wildlife drive is obviously intended to be traversed in a car, I find that I enjoy it best when I park and get out and walk. It’s easier to spot and photograph the little birds when I’m on foot. Like this Common Yellowthroat, who hopped out into the open briefly before flitting along in the reeds…

Common Yellowthroat (Female)
Common Yellowthroat (Female)

…or this juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron, who I might not have spotted from my car because of how well he blended into the distant reeds.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Juvenile)
Black-crowned Night Heron (Juvenile)

During one of the brief periods when the sun made an appearance, I spotted this Northern Harrier flying not too far from the Crazy U. It was tricky to hand-hold the camera while keeping the focus on the bird as he flew in front of the blowing reeds. I liked the result though. :)

Northern Harrier in Flight
Northern Harrier in Flight

The female Vermilion Flycatcher is back this winter at her same spot just south of the Crazy U. I spotted her far out in the marsh, and I won’t waste pixels posting the terrible picture that I took of her. When I turned around, though, I spotted a Green Heron stalking his breakfast in the canal. The good thing about a day with no sunshine is that you can shoot in any direction without harsh shadows. So I squatted down to the bird’s level and watched the bird catch minnow after minnow for breakfast.

Green Heron
Green Heron

My time at the Crazy U was definitely the best part of the drive that morning. A steady stream of cars kept me moving as I tried to photograph the wintering ducks on various parts of the drive. I did get this quick head shot of a Northern Shoveler who was almost right next to my car.

Northern Shoveler (Male) Head Shot
Northern Shoveler (Male) Head Shot

At the sod farms near the end of the drive, I spotted another Northern Harrier flying close. I hopped out of the car in time for the bird to fly over my head. Not a bad end to a fun morning of winter birds!

Northern Harrier Flyby
Northern Harrier Flyby

Flower Photography

Water Droplet Macro Fun

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When it’s windy and cloudy and just plain gross outside, it’s the perfect time to pull out the macro lens and play with water droplet photography.

Purple Daisy Water Droplet Refraction
Purple Daisy Water Droplet Refraction

These pictures look so cool and are pretty simple to make. You find a petal or flower that water will bead on, and either spray it with a mister or place the water droplets with a syringe. Then you place a flower behind it. The image of the flower is refracted in the water droplets. Add a bit of light and press the shutter button. Just don’t squeal too loudly when you see the image or you might scare my cat Whiskey. ;-)

Pansy Covered in Water Droplets
Pansy Covered in Water Droplets

Water droplets are a great way to add interest to a flower photograph. For this image, I dropped the pansy in a tray of water, then misted it. I took several photos and then used Photoshop to focus-stack them. Squirt meowed at my feet the whole time because he knew I had pansies and he wasn’t allowed to nibble on them.

Plumbago Bud with Refracted Purple Daisies
Plumbago Bud with Refracted Purple Daisies

I used focus stacking for this final image, too. Daisies work really well for this kind of image as they show up nicely in the water droplets. You can use anything as a background in the refraction, though. That’s what makes this a fun rainy day project – there is plenty of scope for the imagination!

Beyond the Backyard

Nesting Time at Viera Wetlands

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On the morning after Christmas I headed out to the Viera Wetlands for some sunrise photography with the Great Blue Herons. It’s funny to think that nesting season is already underway as we enter our coldest months in Florida. But not only did I find herons bringing in nesting material, but the first nest had already hatched. Two tiny babies filled the wetlands with their nagging calls.

Nesting Great Blue Heron
Nesting Great Blue Heron

This year there are fewer palm trees suitable for nesting. Many of the nests that I photographed last year are just stumps now.

The birds were not especially active on this particular morning. Mom sat low on her babies on Nest #1. A second mom was incubating on Nest #2. A third bird was showing off in hopes of attracting a mate, but didn’t seem to have her own nest yet. A juvenile made me laugh as she showed off her feathers and hopped on a nest without seeming to know what to do next.

Great Blue Heron Preening (enhanced with Topaz Glow)
Great Blue Heron Preening (enhanced with Topaz Glow)

This heron landed directly in front of me and started preening. I love their lacy feathers at this time of year. My original shot didn’t exactly match what was in my imagination, so I enhanced it a bit with Topaz Glow filters.

As I stood watching the herons, an Anhinga sat sunning on a nearby stump. I was surprised not to see any Anhingas in full breeding colors, which can be very striking.

Anhinga Sunning
Anhinga Sunning

I wandered around the wetlands looking for other subjects, surprised not to see as many ducks, gulls, and terns as in years past. It wasn’t a particularly birdy morning. This Glossy Ibis flew in front of me and showed off the shimmer in his wings. He says that every morning spent out in Nature is a good morning! :)

Glossy Ibis in Flight
Glossy Ibis in Flight