Apr 11, 2010

Incredible South West Florida Bird Photography

I've have always read that South West Florida is a mecca for birds and bird photography.  Many species are generally larger and much more tame than most other places in North America.  The biodiversity is amazing.   For a few years now I've viewed many incredible images from this part of the state that completely wowed me.

A few years back I had a vacation to South West Florida but at the time was lacking good bird photography equipment.  Also, I had only just begun to get interested in birds and bird photography and didn't possess much knowledge of birds, locations and photography technique.

*Note - Please click each image to see the full websized image.


My Weapon Of Choice.  Pictured in this image is a Nikon D300 with MB-D10 Battery Grip, Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Lenscoat neoprene cover, Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter, SB-800 Flash with TTL Cord with Better Beamer flash extender mounted on a Wimberly II tripod head on a Gitzo 3530 tripod.  There is 40 feet of speaker wire connected to an Ipod Touch loaded with North America's bird songs.  With a total effective focal length of 1275mm this is a potent combination.  Almost necessary on the Island of Newfoundland where I'm from, you'll see below that I made many images in Florida with only 300mm of focal length on a FX body.

Image taken with Nikon D700, Nikkor 300mm AF-S f4.  Hand held.  1/500th, f5.6 at ISO 1600.  Image edited in Capture NX2.

Based in Nokomis, just south of Sarasota, placed us just north of some of the best bird photography in the state.  Even the back yard of the residence where we stayed was very productive for bird photography.  Regular visitors included Great Egret, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, and several Warbler species. Many species of hawks could be seen flying overhead and Turkey Vultures are regularly seen soaring along.  On the last day of the trip a Sandhill Crane landed in the back yard and allowed approach of my 15 month old daughter and myself within 5 feet!



Wood Stork portrait.  Nokomis.  Nikon D700, Nikkor 300mm AF-S f4.  Hand held.  1/500th, f5.6 at ISO 320.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Northern Mockingbird.  Nokomis.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/1000th, f8 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Great Egret Portrait.  Nokomis.  Nikon D700 and 500mm f4 AF-S VR.  Tripod Mounted.  1/2000th, f5.6 at ISO 200.  Edited in Capture NX2



Perched Brown Thrasher.  Nokomis.  Nikon D300 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/400th, f8 at ISO 200.  Edited in Capture NX2.


Only 15 minutes south of Nokomis in the town of Venice is the Venice Rookery, an Autobahn wildlife refuge.  This little rookery is home to nesting Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and Anhinga.  Hundreds of White and Glossy Ibis spend their nights roosting at the rookery.  Sandhill Crane, Little Blue Heron, Tri-Colored Heron, Little Green Heron, Black Crowned Night Heron, Purple Gallinule, Red-Winged Black Bird, assorted Warblers and many other species are also found around the rookery.  There was even a Great Horned Owl nesting near the entrance to the rookery in a transmitter tower.  The owl had successfully raised two young this spring.



Venice Rookery in early morning, Venice, Florida.  Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-200mm AF-S VR.  1/10th, f4 at ISO 1600.  Hand held.  Edited in Capture NX2.

The rookery is a small island in a small pond with alligators patrolling the waters at all times.  The gators protect the nesting and roosting birds from raccoons and felines and other predators.  The trade off is once that in a while one of the hundreds of birds get a little too close to the water and become food for their reptilian guardians.  One evening while I was at the rookery a Snowy Egret got too close to the water and a turtle grabbed it and dragged it into the water.  Within seconds a gator made a quick snack of the little Snowy!

One of the biggest issues at this location is keeping other birds out of your images while trying to photograph an individual!  Another issue is that there is just so much action happening all around at almost all times that it is really tough to concentrate on what you are trying to shoot!



Landing Great Blue Heron, Wings Fully Spread. Venice Rookery.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.4X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/500th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2 and CS4.  I clipped the Great Blue Heron's right wing in the original capture.  Instead of trashing the image I 'grafted' the wing and left edge from another image in the series and combined them both in Photoshop CS4 to create the above image.



Perched Anhinga. Venice Rookery.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.4X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.   1/100th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Hunting Little Green Heron, Venice Rookery.   Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR.  Tripod Mounted.  1/1250th, f4 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Venice Rookery is best photographed early in the morning as the sun rises and illuminates the rookery and its inhabitants frontally.  The evening sunset does provide opportunity to make backlit images if you desire them.


Great Blue Heron Love Silhouette.  Venice Rookery.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.4X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/200th, f5.6 at ISO 1600.  Edited in Capture NX2. 



Displaying Backlit Great Egret in Breeding Plumage Venice Rookery.   Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/125th, f6.7 at ISO 200.  Edited in Capture NX2.


Close to the Nokomis beach is a drawbridge over a waterway.  On the banks of the waterway fishermen often clean their catch and you can find Brown Pelican and Snowy Egret waiting for handouts.  These birds allow very close approach and can easily be photographed with a short telephoto lens.


Male Brown Pelican Portrait.  Nokomis Beach.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 300mm AF-S f4.  Hand held.  1/1000th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.



Snowy Egret Awaiting a Handout. Nokomis Beach.  Nikon D700 and and Nikkor 300mm AF-S f4.  Hand held.  1/1600th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.

While at the Venice Rookery early one morning I had a conversation with one of the multitude of photographers, most of whom where very friendly and willing to share their experiences.  I had mentioned that I was planning a trip to Sanibel Island to visit the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  She mentioned that if I make the trip that I should make a slight detour to the city of Cape Coral, just north of Sanibel Island.  Located throughout the city were the little Burrowing Owls!  After asking if I had access to a vehicle GPS navigator she told me to plug in the 'Cape Coral Public Library'.  It was as simple as that!  Surrounding the building were several burrows.  Two of them were active at the time of the visit.



Burrowing Owl.  Cape Coral.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.4X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/200th, f5.6 at ISO 400.  Edited in Capture NX2.


After leaving the library I discovered that the owls were all over town!  Everywhere you looked their burrows were staked off to mark their locations in order to better protect them!


Ding Darling is a national wildlife refuge located on the Island of Sanibel, a subtropical barrier island located in the Gulf of Mexico, about 90 minutes south of Nokomis.   The 'Ding' is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and world famous for its incredible migratory bird populations.  The biodiversity in the refuge is simply stunning.  Everything is alive!  The shorelines 'crawl' with different species of crab including Horseshoe and the waters are teeming with fish, constantly breaching and jumping with birds fishing for them all around.  They are very numerous and much more tame than most people living in the north have ever witnessed.  This is undoubtedly from the steady stream of tourists and photographers driving through the refuge.

At the 'Ding' I encountered Reddish Egret, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, Great Cormorant, Roseate Spoonbill, Little Blue Heron, Tri-Colored Heron, Black Crowned Night Heron, Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Osprey, White Pelican, Pie-Billed Grebe, and a multitude of shorebirds and an assortment of ducks, all on a 4 mile drive!


Roseate Spoonbills.  Sanibel Island.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.   1/800th, f6.7 at ISO 500.  Edited in Capture NX2.


Hunting Little Blue Heron.  Sanibel Island.  Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Hand held.  1/400th, f6.7 at ISO 1600.  Edited in Capture NX2.


 Yellow Crowned Night Heron eating Crab.  Sanibel Island. Nikon D300 and Nikkor 300mm f4 AF-S.  Hand held. 1/2000th, f4 at ISO 200.  Edited in Capture NX2.



 Dancing Reddish Egret on Molten Waters.  Sanibel Island.   Nikon D700 and Nikkor 500mm f4 AF-S VR with Nikkor 1.7X Teleconverter.  Tripod Mounted.  1/500th, f6.7 at ISO 800.  Edited in Capture NX2.

One thing I've learned that is of crucial importance when visiting Florida, especially if you intend of doing some bird photography; one should bring lots of storage for digital images.  During my stay in a 20 day period I shot about 150 GB of images!  It will give me great pleasure for some time to come sorting, editing, posting and printing these images!

Thanks, and I really hope you've enjoyed the images!

All the images you see in this blog post are available for sale.  Custom framing is available.  I print all images myself on a wide format professional series Epson 7880.  Please contact me by email listed below.

RONiN photography (Scott Grant) offers image sales, photographic instruction, group courses, printing and enlargement services, and wedding and portrait photography.  If you would like to contact me please do so at scott@roninphoto.ca or call at (709) 634-3693.  I'm located in Corner Brook, Newfoundland in Canada.

If you would like to learn more about RONiN photography please visit www.roninphoto.ca.


3 comments:

  1. Wow, Scott that looks like a dream trip for a birder! Some great images here and I'm sure many many more. Keep up the good work

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great capture , with wonderful timing.

    ReplyDelete