Alligators and large wading birds I expected on my bike ride through Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. The crocodile was definitely a surprise! Shark Valley is located in the northeast quadrant of the Everglades “river of grass,” the mostly fresh water drainage from Lake Okeechobee. Alligators thrive in fresh water or estuaries with a mix of fresh and salt water, while crocodiles are salt water creatures — mostly found further south in the Florida Keys. Crocodiles are aggressive and are known to attack humans within striking distance. How very lucky that I saw this croc from a safe distance from the observation tower ramp. My guardian angel was on duty!
Stay tuned this week for more photo highlights of wildlife in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.
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My dog Sophie can’t believe how big the birds are in Florida. Yes, that’s a six-pound wood stork over there! And looking at its fuzzy head, I can tell it’s a juvenile. This bashful bird is wary of the photographer inching along the grass to come just a little bit closer. He is one of a threatened species, the only breeding stork in North America, found in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. His biggest predator is the raccoon, who steals eggs from its nest.
Wood storks wade in lowland wetlands and look for fish, frogs and insects to eat. They shuffle their webbed feet in the shallow water to stir any aquatic critters to move, and then keep their bills in the water to catch dinner. That is a blue heron standing behind the wood stork.
In my neighborhood in Naples, Florida, the wood stork shares the swamp with numerous heron, ibis, egrets, turtles, fish and alligators. Sophie, you’re not in Pennsylvania anymore.
This little screech owl didn’t utter a peep (or a screech) while I set up my tripod to photograph him. He just went to sleep. Luckily, I got a shot of him with his eyes open before he drifted off to dreamland. Other people who stopped to admire him, sitting in the hollow of a dead tree suggested that the owl must be female, as it was sitting on a nest. I did some reading and learned that the males tend to establish a nest in the late winter (now) — in the hollow of a tree — a rich environment for prey of insects, reptiles and small mammals. The female owls then “marry for money,” choosing the mate based on the quality of the cavity and the food supply. Who knew?
Evening light was low, and I used my 200mm Nikon lens on my Nikon D800 camera body. I used a wide 3.5 f/stop in order to blur the background and put visual emphasis on the owl. For low noise and a crisp image even after cropping, I used ISO 200, and my shutter speed was 1/13 second, making a tripod essential.
Screech owls have acute hearing, but this one was extremely tolerant of people walking by, and the occasional loud quote, “Oh, I SEE IT!” His coloring and texture makes him well camouflaged. He ignored all of us, and saved his trill for the hunt, when he uses it to scare off another raptor that might also want to catch the same mouse.
It is always a privilege to observe wildlife in its habitat and to photograph it without disturbing it. I’m so grateful that he knew we came in peace to admire him. Take a look at those claws!
Tillandsia, or “air plants” for short, are magical. They attach themselves to trees and grow without soil, taking in moisture and nutrients through the air. They aren’t picky eaters: bugs, dust and decaying leaves will do. They are evergreen perennial plants that flower and make babies. You can see them everywhere in the Tropics — like in your back yard! — but you can also observe dozens of them in cypress swamps. These two caught my eye in Six Mile Cypress Swamp in Fort Myers, Florida, as they were gently lit by the setting sun.
Yesterday in a Florida swamp, I recognized an opportunity to try a new style (new to me): Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). It was late afternoon, and the sun was behind me as I gazed across a pond at a placid scene of trees and brush reflected in the still pond. Admiring the sunlight on the vertical lines of the trees, elongated into their reflections, I suddenly realized that I could make an interesting graphic by moving the camera vertically while exposing as long as possible.
Since I had been working on shooting a bird and some otters across the pond, I had the equivalent* of a 300mm f/ 2.8 lens mounted on my D800. This was a good choice to switch to ICM, because, as you may know, it is pretty easy to blur a shot made with this lens if you are shooting handheld! I set my camera aperture as small as possible (f/32) in order to generate a slow the shutter speed (1/6th second) in Aperture Priority mode. This would set the shutter to be open long enough to create a vertical blur as I moved the camera. I recalled that I should begin the camera movement before pressing the shutter and keep an even movement speed. I experimented with about 6 images, and of course each one was a little different.
This one was my favorite for a few reasons: 1) Camera movement was truly vertical so the vertical lines of the trees are emphasized. 2) I like the color palette of blue, green, white, yellow and brown. 3) I like the tonal contrast and the mirror effect created by the shoreline. 4) My overall impression is that I would not tire of looking at this image. I think it would look cool in a home or office — especially as a metal print. Do you?
*Nikon 70-200mm lens with Nikon 1.5 teleconverter.
Sunset is the main event. At 6:12pm, scores of us have a drink in hand, a friend nearby and a sense of anticipation. The big orange ball is dropping fast. Will there be a green flash?
But zoom your lens back to a wide angle of 24mm, focus on the sky, and you will notice the unique designs the clouds are making. Did anyone else notice? Looking through the lens with two Singh Ray filters holding back the exposure on the sky, you can see a painterly view of the evening sky over the Gulf of Mexico on February 3, a scene worth remembering.
When you are going to shoot a sunset, the first thing you have to do is choose your position. In Naples, Florida last evening, I surveyed the mostly clear sky, the flat horizon of the Gulf of Mexico, the crowd of sunset spectators on the beach and looked for some type of foreground that would add interest to the composition. I spotted a low palm tree and thought that I might use the palm fronds to create a sunstar and to add interest to what might otherwise be a view that was too plain. Do you think this works?
If I did not have water or distant land forms for a simple horizon, I would be looking for ways to simplify — not add interest — to the horizon. Every sunset is different: every location, foreground, every cloud formation, every day. While you may have an idea that there will or will not be clouds to reflect the orange and pink hues of the sunset, it is hard to know for sure. It is also hard to determine if there are or are not clouds right on the horizon, as you typically cannot see them until the sun (or moon) intersects with them. Will there be a green flash, only visible when no clouds block the sun’s last seconds above the horizon? As experienced as you get, it is nearly impossible to predict what the day’s sunset will bring.
My equipment: Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm lens, Nikon circular polarizer, Singh-Ray reverse graduated two-stop filter, Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head.