Florida > January 2008

Michael W Masters

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This was the third trip to Florida for bird photography, the first as a photo tour and workshop six years earlier.  As with the second trip, my wife, AKA Egret Herder, joined for the bird watching.  Almost all locations were on the west coast, the exception being a stop at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park south of Jacksonville.  The itinerary of locations visited and subjects photographed were:

  • St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, for a variety of captive macaws, parrots, etc.

  • Lido Key, pelicans near St Petersburg

  • Venice Rookery, the Audubon Society artificial island for egret and heron nesting

  • Selby Gardens, a collection of air plants from around the world

  • Cape Coral for its burrowing owls

  • Ding Darling NWR for roseate spoonbills, reddish egrets,pelicans and more

  • Ft DeSoto Park, for shorebirds and skimmers

    • An overnight stay at a Treasure Isle beach resort

  • Lido Key, more pelicans

  • Cape Coral for another round of burrowing owls

  • Ding Darling NWR again and an obliging white ibis

  • Anhinga Trail deep in the Everglades

  • And finally, Shark Valley, home of anhingas, waders, pond birds and alligators

Ding Darling NWR  and Cape Coral both received more than one visit.  Lots of young great blue herons at the Venice Rookery meant plenty of activity.  Males brought nesting material and engaged in sky pointing mating displays, with some birds in flight as well.  The burrowing owls at Cape Coral are always special.  Approaching low and very slow usually works, athough on this trip at least one photographer didn't get the message.

I had gotten as close as minimum focusing distance for my 600mm f4 and was happily garnering image after image of a very trusting burrowing owl, who was far more concerned with scanning the sky for predators than with me.  As the light faded, the owl suddenly looked up and became incredibly alarmed.  Suddenly it flew many feet away, its eyes wide with alerted alarm.  I was able to swing the camera around and squeeze off a few frames before it took wing.

Since the light was almost gone, I didn't consider it a great loss.  I got up, and discovered anothe photographer behind me, standing there with his camera, lens and tripod and an embarrassed look.  My wife, an observer to the whole scene, later recounted that this individual had driven up, parked very close nearby and proceeded to walk up briskly behind me, frightening the owl away in the process.  The irony of the situation is that those few expressive images captured at the last moment before the owl flew are among my best and most treasured!

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St Augustine Lido Key Venice Rookery Selby Gardens Cape Coral
Ding Darling NWR Ft DeSoto Park Treasure Isle Anhinga Trail Shark Valley
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