On first impression, the swamp is chaotic. With its high canopy, most of the scene is dark with shadow. The day’s bright sunlight barely filtering through. Large tree trunks, felled by past storms lie at random angles and decay. Walking the boardwalk, I look down into the murky water for alligators, frogs and snakes. I hear a variety of bird calls, but looking around and above me, I cannot spot the birds.
I walk and observe my surroundings for more than an hour. My vision is drawn to the ferns, which spring from the decaying tree trunks and at times fill in a section of the swamp. I see the color, the pattern and the contrast of a narrow trunk, speckled with lichen. I have found a composition. As I work with the image later, I developed a painting. What do you think?
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The Little Blue Heron is born as a stark white bird, and it gradually develops those vibrant slate blue feathers as it matures. If you were not aware of that color change, you might wonder about the identity of this unique bird when you see it in the Everglades.
Standing on one leg, the heron rests the other while silently watching the water for fish. “Little” is a relative term, as it can grow to 29″ and have a wingspan of 41 inches. It is only “little” when compared to the tall “Great Blue Heron,” that can stand 4.5 feet high.
“Okay, perfect. Now, stand up straight with one foot in front of the other, step into the sunlight, look at me, and hold it right there.” Snap!
If only a wild bird would follow directions like that! If only a beautiful roseate spoonbill would show up when you go out with your camera hoping to capture something interesting. In the wild, the photographer shows up often and prepared with know how and good equipment hoping that the birds and the events will happen someday.
When it is time to process a digital image, some experience with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom comes in handy. I was grateful to be prepared when this Roseate Spoonbill and I met at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
This tall and tranquil bird stood still for quite some time at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary as I set up my tripod to make this photograph. He/she is a classy bird, seeming confident, or should I say, comfortable in his feathers.
Wearing “camo” is in. Especially if you are an alligator and hunt for food in the wild. Alligators floating in the swamp have a natural advantage, because they resemble floating logs, and they are silent and often still. Unsuspecting fish, birds and even people swim or walk by, in close range.
This 14-foot American Alligator seen at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was cruising Lettuce Lakes early Sunday morning, beneath the nest of three Anhinga chicks. He took on a new “camo” outfit as the plants adhered to his back.
On a morning walk in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, you never know what lies ahead. One time, a Florida Panther jumped onto this stretch of boardwalk. Other days a Burmese python was sighted just below in the swamp. Most likely, you will see a dozen or more species of birds and some alligators. I was not disappointed as I entered the cypress forest.
I arrived at Six Mile Cypress Slough right at sunset, just in time to see this large and beautiful bird begin to hunt for dinner from a cypress knee in the swamp. This is a tall bird, typically 23″ tall with its neck extended, and look at those claws. I loved its indigo coloring as well as the plume of slender white feathers that emerge from his crown.
I was really excited that the heron chose to hang out with me for 10 minutes or so, giving me time to capture him in several positions.
This turtle seems to love his private spot to bask in the late afternoon sun. This textured clump of tree roots is just the right size to elevate the turtle out of the South Florida swamp. Lots of turtles inhabit this area, sharing it with alligators, large and small.
Back to the Florida swamp, I’m sharing this image of a smiling frog in honor of the ever popular St. Patrick’s Day. I might have missed this friendly guy without the tip from the watchful naturalists at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. I was busy watching the enormous alligators; both the male and female were groaning at each other from a distance. They sounded something like a person who groans from joint pain while standing up. Do you know anyone who does this?
There were also some baby alligators crawling on the mama, and some large anhinga birds sitting on their nest. But you’d hate to miss the little guys — like the lizards and frogs and insects they are about to eat.
Many nature photographers prefer to shoot on cloudy days, when the dynamic range is not too wide for the camera to capture, and sharp shadows don’t create issues. In other words, the experienced photographer can be assured of capturing detail in both the highlights and the shadows. But sunlight very early and very late in the day creates other nice opportunities. For example, in this photograph in Six Mile Cypress Swamp in Fort Myers, Forida, the shadows made good leading lines, as did the sunlight coming in from the upper right corner. All those lines converge in the low center of the frame. The blue sky made a vivid reflection in the still water, and the yellow sunlight in the background adds some warmth.
This time of year when we experience fewer bright sunny days, we appreciate what sunshine can do for our mood. I certainly feel more energetic and upbeat on a sunny day. How about you?