When I go out on a nature photography trip, I have a very strict schedule and timetable – with multiple variants in case some areas are hot or cold (great shooting possibilities, or zero photo ops) and my target on this trip was landscapes and birds. Landscapes because I love doing them and have a passion for making portraits of Florida in its natural state, and birds because of the overwhelming response I got to my last blog (see – your comments really do guide my travels). I decided I’d better work on my birds and see how well I could deliver.
The pine trees above were photographed as the sun rose above the horizon on the shore of the Ochlockonee Bay – in the same spot as the sunrise photo above. Hurricanes in recent years have changed the layout of the landscape permanently – on a coastline that is already in constant flux. These doomed pines will soon be killed by the salty bay which is now creeping into the forest and eroding the very ground where these trees stand.
To make up for lost time – I had to go through Apalachicola without stopping, and make a note to add this location for a future photography trip. I was behind schedule and had a lot of places to stop before I had my final sunset shoot that evening. Passing through the nearly deserted streets (it was about 8:30 am on a Sunday morning) I drove through a huge flock of European starlings. There were hundreds upon hundreds of them! I pulled over to get a shot of this little critter from behind the wheel. What is a European bird doing in Florida? In 1890, someone decided to release a hundred of these beautiful and highly adaptive birds in New York City, from where they have spread across the whole continent – and are now increasingly more common in Florida. I saw my first one a couple of years ago, and now they are seen commonly all over the state.
My major stop of the day was the St. Joseph Peninsula – a nine mile bent finger of land that reaches out into the the Gulf of Mexico, and creates the St. Joseph Bay. I was excited! I’d never been here before, and I wanted to see the magnificent dunes that make this stretch of coast so unlike anywhere else in the United States. I planned to stay here for about five hours and shoot all the birds I could find, and get those dunes, of course! With my first few steps out of the car, I was rewarded with this cardinal perched on some smilax, orgreenbriar, vines.
shore on the Gulf side of the peninsula, but as I came over the dunes (using the boardwalk of course – it is illegal to walk on the dunes themselves for several ecological and environmental reasons) I started to see little moving specks at the water’s edge. These turned out to be the skittish little sanderlings in their lovely winter plumage. This sanderling was kind enough to pause its foraging to pose for me.
Scouting the best place to photograph the dunes, I decided to shoot from another boardwalk, and from the highest position. I do not like anything man-made or unnatural in my landscapes, so I was limited. I managed to get this clean image and was able to shoot wide with no obstructions. This dune was about 25 feet high, and it was a magical view! I also have to say that it was the first time I’ve ever worn gloves in Florida…. it was ridiculously cold and windy! Why was I carrying gloves with me in Florida when I never have worn or needed them before? I’m always prepared….. or so I think I am….
Crossing back over to the St. Joseph Bay side of the peninsula to Eagle Harbor – which was about a two-minute walk. It was a birder’s wonderland! All kinds of birds I’ve never seen! This shockingly red-eyed horned grebe kept popping up a couple dozen feet from me, just to disappear underwater when I raised my camera to my face. I was very excited about this find, being the first time I’ve ever seen one, and the fact that it seemed to be checking me out as much as I was checking it out, I was determined to get this shot. Pow! Once again I hit myself simultaneously on the cheek, nose and forehead with my camera as it suddenly pops up really close, and I manage to get a quick focus and fire within a split second. All those years of photographing butterflies have really honed my aim and control!
Then it happened….. my foot got stuck in the mud. No problem – I’m used to it, and it happens all the time. What never happens is the sole of the boot sticking to the mud so strongly that it separates from the boot! I’d had a bit of a flapper and my wife had been telling me to get new boots, but I had a backup pair – in my closet at home. So much for being prepared for anything! “Pseudo-Tourette’s” kicks in and I’m unloading blasphemy like a seasoned pirate, and I don’t even notice how cold the muddy water is on one previously cozy and dry foot. I can’t do any more shooting until I replace my boots, and I’ve scared off all the birds anyway. Once this sinks in, I really get mad. A good pair of boots is just as important for a nature photographer as his camera – you can’t have one without the other.
Almost two hours later, I’m in a Walmart in Panama City wearing one boot and looking for a new pair of temporary replacement boots.
Not far from where the deer were photographed, I began a chase through the trees after this female downey woodpecker. The smallest American woodpecker, it is just as quick and unpredictable as its larger cousins, and as I was about to give up the chase and go after something else, she landed close to me and I squeezed off this shot!
After checking out the beach on the Gulf side of the park and seeing much the same thing as I did on the St. Joseph Peninsula, I decide to skip it for another day and head to the north side of the park to look for birds and other sights on the Grand Lagoon. Bodies of water connected to the Gulf and sheltered by land are usually the best places to look for wildlife, and this was the case here. Lots of mergansers, shorebirds, and this beautiful, huge great blue heron were the first thing I saw as I came out of the trees and approached the water’s edge. Approaching very slowly, this heron tolerated my presence up to about ten feet away. I got this photograph while sitting cross-legged in front of this magnificent heron.
I decided to do a bit of exploring for future trip locations, and make notes and mark waypoints on my GPS for another day. The golden hour of late afternoon photography was past, and I still had no idea where to shoot my sunset. The sun was setting in the wrong direction, and I needed to get the sun on the same side as the beach.
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January 5, 2010
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