Florida - Part One
It's fair to say that for most of 2018, my bird photography has taken a back seat. Moving house, work and a general lack of enthusiasm to get out have combined, resulting in my gear being unfairly neglected. That has now been put to rights though following an amazing week spent on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It's been a destination I've wanted to visit for a few years now given the abundance of wildlife (especially birds) and it more than lived up to expectations. This blog post will covers the first half of my trip with plenty of images included, with an additional part to follow to cover the rest of my trip. Suffice to say I took an awful lot of photos so I'll showcase my favourites.
Day One - Saturday 13th October
A day of travel and not a lot else! It started with a very early morning drive to Gatwick airport for my 10:50am flight to Orlando Sanford which was hiccup free and relatively comfortable. I arrived at about 15:30 local time and after the normal faff of getting through security and collecting my baggage it was then off to the Alamo desk to collect my hire car. I must say, this was super quick and easy and I was really impressed at how smooth this went. I was on the road in no time and heading to my first base of the week - Treasure Island. I'd opted for a hotel right on the beach and once checked in I dumped my stuff and watched the sunset from the beach. It was then time for a quick bite to eat, prepare my kit ready for the morning before getting some much needed sleep!
Day Two - Sunday 14th October
My first 'proper' day and I was up and out before sunrise. I decided to spend the first half of the day locally and explore the beach and had an absolute ball with some brilliant birds seen. Loads of waders including Willet and Sanderling and plenty of terns with Sandwich, Royal and Forster's found along with my first Black Skimmers of the trip.
I also saw plenty of Osprey's fishing along the shore and enjoyed watching them whilst tucking into a delicious beachfront breakfast. After walking back to the hotel I had a bit of a rest and recharge by the pool (it would have been rude not to) before heading over to Fort De Soto later in the afternoon. A beautiful place and yet more fab birds seen including a super smart Tri-coloured Heron on North Beach which didn't seem at all bothered by people. I had a nice walk around this part of the preserve and more waders were seen along with yet more approachable herons and egrets. Plenty to see and shoot and I vowed to come back for more.
Day Three - Monday 15th October
I opted to follow the same pattern as the previous day though visited the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in the morning which was great little place which takes in and rehabilitates injured birds. Aside from the birds in care, there were some amazingly tame Black-crowned Night Herons and Black Vultures hanging about, more often than not too close for anything other than headshots. A little less focal length would definitely be helpful.
I then went for a wander along the beach here and found my first Grey Plover of the trip which was great fun to photograph before the highlight of the morning which came in the form of a Long-billed Dowitcher in amongst several more Grey Plover. It was relatively skittish but a patient and messy approach resulted in some images I'm really pleased with.
I then walked back South along the beach where Great and Snowy Egrets were fishing in the surf, Turnstones were feeding among some rocks and a number of Brown Pelicans were resting on some wooden struts just off the beach. A busy morning so it was back to the hotel for lunch and a swim. I then returned to Fort de Soto in the afternoon and did a bit more exploring. I found a great little cove that was teeming with birds so set up here and enjoyed a great session, with Reddish Egret, Greater Yellowlegs, Knot, Least Sandpiper and Wilson's Plover all found.
Day Four - Tuesday 16th October
An early start saw me on the road well before sunrise for a visit to the Circle B Bar Reserve; an inland reserve where alligators would be my main target. I arrived just after 8am and it was already extremely hot and very humid. Given I wasn't just after birds at this location I decided to pack my macro lens too so once all set I was soon off exploring the trails. It didn't take long before I was looking at my first ever Limpkin. A very confiding bird but sadly positioned between me and the early-morning sun with no possible way for me to get into a better position. Still, I managed a relatively pleasing backlit headshot despite some super hot whites but you can't have it all.
I then proceeded around the back of the reserve via the 'Eagle's Roost' trail and had a number of lifers with Sandhill Cranes, American Kestrels, Loggerhead Shrike and Bald Eagle all seen. No pics sadly but great to see nonetheless. There were also stacks of Gulf Fritillary butterflies to be seen but given the heat they weren't settling so I didn't even attempt to get photos of them. I then looped back into the main part of the reserve and came face to face with a very showy Anhinga though actually struggled to find a position to get the whole of the bird in the frame, so opted for some head and neck shots. It's easy to see why they're often known as the 'snakebird'! A Great Egret also posed nearby and Opsreys were numerous, fishing in the ponds that made up the reserve.
A little while later I had a great fly-past from a Belted Kingfisher with more Anhingas, egrets and heron's seen (mainly Little Blue and Tri-coloured) though none in decent light for photography. My search for alligators turned out to be fruitless and from the sounds of it, that was the theme of the day with pretty much everyone I spoke to also failing to see them. Very disappointing but still a brilliant morning. Also of of note was my first ever raccoon along with a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (wow!), Pilated and Black-bellied woodpeckers, Mourning Doves and a number of warblers that I haven't yet identifed. It was then time to head South to Fort Myers, where I'd be based for the remainder of the my trip. The drive was nice and straightforward and after a few hours I was checking in to my hotel. Given the heat and the long drive I opted to have a bit of chill time so I spent a very relaxing hour or so by the pool with a few ice cold beers - pure bliss and a much needed recharge! Talking of recharging, my camera batteries were now ready to go so I hit the beach for an evening stroll to see what was about and unsurprisingly there were plenty of waders feeding along the shoreline with Willet, Semi-palmated Plover, Grey Plover, Turnstone and Sanderling all in abundance and I was soon on my stomach firing away. Some roosting Semipalmated Plovers were fun to shoot and they looked pretty cute as they nestled themselves down into the sand.
A Grey Plover decided to come and investigate me and was soon far too close for anything more than a headshot, and by now the sun was rapidly descending in the sky with another wonderful sunset caught in the reflection of the bird's eye.
The light had soon faded and whilst I could've eeked out a few more images I decided to call it a day and sat back and enjoyed the last few rays of sun as they sank beyond the horizon. It had been a long and tiring day but it was nice to have made the most of it and done a little more exploring. I took a slow stroll along the beach back to the hotel before a few drinks, some food and a deleting session ready for the next day. I'll cover the remainder of my trip in the next post which will be up soon but in the meantime, thank you for reading!
Keywords: Bird Photography, Birds, Dave Collins Photography, Florida, Florida bird photography, Gulf Coast, Nature, Photography, Shorebirds, Trip report, Waders, Wildlife, Wildlife blog
Absolutely stunning images Dave. I can admire but not even aspire to. I'll keep trying.
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