Florida - Part Two
This is second part of my Florida trip report and covers the final few days, which were spent around the Fort Myers area. There are plerny of images in this post so I hope you enjoy them!
Day 5 - Wednesday 17th October
Another day, another pre-sunrise alarm and I was up and out in no time, full of excitement and enthusiasm for the day ahead. What I absolutely love about wildlife photography is the pre-shoot anticipation and not knowing what's in store. Thankfully I was pretty much guaranteed to find plenty of subjects, it was just a question of what! My plan for the day was to continue exploring the local area, starting with a walk northwards along the beach. It was another beautiful morning and I was soon in the company of Sanderlings, Willet and Grey Plover and I was about to take some pics of the latter when I noticed an American Oystercatcher a little way up the shoreline. I watched from a distance and was pleased to see it didn't seem at all perturbed by those out walking so I made my way a littler closer. This was a lifer for me and a bird I really wanted to photograph so I watched it for a little while longer and once I was happy that it would continue feeding in my direction I laid down and got (un)comfortable. It was soon within range so I began shooting away and before I knew it, it was within a few feet of me and walked on by. I was about to move when it alarm-called and took flight. I was surprised as I'd been very careful to remain still but then realised the actual reason for its swift departure was an unleashed dog bounding towards me. This really irked me as dogs are supposedly banned from this stretch of the beach but within moments the local police were on the scene giving the owner a stern talking to. I took the opportunity to check my images and deleted those not worthy but was very happy indeed to have a good number of keepers.
I carried on my walk and there were plenty of birds to see and photograph and I took a few more shots of a confiding Willet before my attention was grabbed by a passing Osprey. It was circling very close to the shore and I was praying it would dive for a fish as I was in a great position. My luck was amazingly in but I was taken my surprise at just how quickly this magnificent raptor had dived and the next few seconds were a massive blur, as were most of the photos!! It was amazing to be so close to the action and I'm glad that a few frames came out well. This Osprey was unsuccessful, with the following frame just after the bird had left the water empty handed.
I was buzzing for quite some time after this but didn't let that get in the way of things and was soon back on my stomach shooting a Grey Plover and a Short-billed Dowitcher that repeatedly came too close, so headshots only of this great looking wader.
At this point I noticed a large flock of gulls and terns out at sea and watched them make their way back towards the beach where they soon settled. About ten minutes later they were up again and making all kinds of noise so I assumed they were being disturbed either by a dog or other predator. I scanned around and there were no dogs to be seen so I assumed that something else was to blame. My hunch proved right not long after when I happened to glance around. I can't say what made me do that but as I looked over my right shoulder I immediately noticed a shadow on the sand...which wasn't actually a shadow! It was in fact a Peregrine Falcon and it can't have been more than a foot above the sand as it sped towards the already nervous flock of gulls and terns. Instinct kicked in and I lifted the camera and fired off a ream of shots more out of hope than expectation. The scene was carnage with a swirl of white and a cachophony of screams as the falcon smashed into the flock. I couldn't keep track of it so don't know if it managed a kill, but another great spectacle to witness.
The rest of the morning saw plenty more Ospreys pass overhead and multiple dives seen but none were as good as the one witnessed earlier on in the day and I eventually turned around and headed back to the hotel to review the morning's results over breakfast before a much needed dip in the pool. The camera batteries were put on charge and I enjoyed a very pleasant few hours basking in the hot sun.
Feeling ready for my second session of the day, I opted to head South for the rest of the afternoon and evening (on foot) and on my way to the shoreline earlier, I'd noticed a group of White Ibis feeding outside of a hotel a little down the way. The light wasn't in the right place then so I decided to check for them now but sadly they weren't around. I did however then realise that I was actually looking at part of the Little Estero Lagoon area which was supposedly a hot spot for bird photography. Walking around for a better view I noticed an Osprey coming into land on the shore of the main pool I was closest to. It had a wash and then moved up into some nearby trees. I'd got a few shots of the bird in the water but the light was pretty dire. However, it was improving by the minute so I made my way around the lagoon to try and get closer to the now preening Osprey. Cover wasn't great so I used what branches and tree trunks I could and just took things very slowly. I managed to get ridiculously close and got some very pleasing portraits of this brilliant raptor.
During the next hour or so I also saw a Pied Kingfisher, Tri-coloured Heron, Little Blue Heron and a yet to be identified sandpiper. I decided to move on from the lagoon and finish the evening along the beach where plenty of waders were going to roost. As the sun was setting I found myself sharing the moment with a typically tame Snowy Egret.
Day 6 - Thursday 18th October
This morning was very much a case a repeat of yesterday morning, given the variety of subjects to shoot. I was yet again up just before sunrise and the weather was, yes, beautiful. I decided to have a look around the corner from the hotel for the flock of White Ibis I'd found the day before and was pleased to find them feeding. They weren't phased with my presence and despite the area they were feeding in being in shadow still, I did manage a few keepers.
I then headed down to the beach and as usual there were plenty of birds feeding and roosting along the shoreline, with Ospreys hunting over the breaking waves already. I spent a bit of time shooting Sanderlings and Ospreys before noticing a pool up on the beach - I assume created from overnight rainfall. The pool had a number of small waders feeding on it so I made a slow approach to the edge of it and found a number of Semipalmated Plovers along with some even smaller Least Sandpipers. They were very timid but I got some nice images of them in the still water.
They didn't hang around for too long at all so these ended up being the best images I got. Still, great to add a new bird to the list and off I went for more. I soon came across an amazingly confiding Great Egret a little further along the beach, with those out walking dogs and collecting shells also taking an interest in the bird, with some people getting within a few feet of it for selfies with it showing no sign of fear.
I eventually moved on, heading back towards the hotel and noticed a small flock of Brown Pelicans resting up on what I can only assume to be struts from an old jetty/pier, so I took a few pics before heading back to the hotel for a well earned bit of food and a lounge by the pool.
I didn't get far before I got distracted by some co-operative subjects feeding around the lagoon. These included the White Ibis (though in smaller numbers than earlier) and a very smart Tri-coloured Heron which begged for a close-up.
After lunch I decided to spend a few hours exploring the nearby Lovers Key State Park. It was extremely hot and humid and not particularly comfortable but I managed a good few hours walking around the various pools and lagoons in the main mangrove swamp part of the reserve. The highlight was a very inquisitive Raccoon. So inquisitive that it was actually too close for photos! Bird-wise, things were surprisingly quiet so I headed down towards the beach and had a very enjoyable walk along the shoreline. Again, not too many birds and nothing new. I did encounter a large gathering of Snowy and Great Egrets at the end of the beach where it curved inland but didn't get any worthwhile images. I did however find a Short-billed Dowitcher and after a very wet and mucky crawl, got within range and began shooting away. A great bird to see at close quarters.
I left the dowitcher to it and made by way back towards the car but not before stopping to wash my clothes. The beach was deserted so I decided to strip off and enjoy a swim whilst my now clean clothes hung drying on a mangrove tree. They were dry in no time and I decided to call it a day, feeling absolutely shattered. An evening of food, a few drinks and reviewing the days pics lay ahead, before my final full day of photography.
Day 7 - Friday 19th October
Where had the time gone?! I woke up bright and early yet again full of enthusiasm for my last day. I'd had a brilliant time so far and was determined to keep the good run going. I was out of the door and down on the beach and for a change, noticed a number of small waders scuttling about quite a way up the beach away from the shoreline. I soon realised they were mainly Snowy Plovers with a few Wilson's Plovers too. New for this part of the beach for me and with the sun still rising, the light was superb. I was about to start shooting when I noticed a funny looking Osprey flying over the beach with a fish. I ignored it then did a check with the binoculars only to then realise it was a Bald Eagle! No decent pics and I was ruing my complacency. I didn't let that ruin my mood and was soon getting nice and sandy with the many plovers in front of me.
The plover fest continued a little while later, with the sun now higher in the sky. A number of Semipalmated Plovers were in amongst a large flock of Sanderling, Turnstone and Willet. I had to lie in a small pool to get a good angle but if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
I spent the next hour or so just enjoying the fresh air and the amazing weather, taking it all in whilst I could. By now, the sun was blazing hot and a lot of the birds were attempting to roost. A large flock of Sanderling were doing just this, but with a constant stream of people out on the beach, they were often interrupted, having to shift to a safer distance. I took up a spot on the sand and watched and waited as they moved until I had one Sanderling relatively isolated on the edge of the flock.
The light was harsh but at the right angle gave a lovely pastel feel and I found a Willet not far away that allowed a close approach and that too looked very nice against the white sand a blue sky.
There was also a very large and very raucous mixed flock of terns in the same area. Not easy subjects to photograph given their white plumage and the brightness of the sun by now but had a crack anyway, with a Sandwich Tern landing and moving towards the flock a chance to get a bird on its own.
It had been a great morning all in all and I'd stayed out a little later than normal to make the most of the time I had left, and despite some very harsh sunlight I was pleased with the results I'd got. One last session to go so it was back to the hotel to recharge the batteries (both for me and my camera), get a bite to eat and cool off in the pool.
For the afternoon session, I'd decided to focus a little more on the lagoon adjacent to the hotel. The White Ibis were again present, as was a Blue Heron but what caught my eye most keenly was a Roseate Spoonbill roosting in the mangroves on the opposite bank to where I was. I really wanted some shots of this colourful bird so made way around the water's edge until I was within range. Unfortunately, there was no way I could get a decent full body shot due to the density of branches between me and the spoonbill. I made the best of things though and got some images of various parts of the spoonbill; it's amazing and weird looking head included!
I didn't spend long at all here as I didn't want to spook the bird so slowly backed away and left it in peace, and decided to see what else was about. A Blue Heron was again stalking the margins but it was frustratingly either obscured by vegetation or too close! I then noticed a Tri-coloured Heron fishing a bit further away. I watched it initially before realising this could get me some decent action shots so I changed position and got comfy, very carefully avoiding a fire ant nest! Before I knew it I was snapping away whilst the heron did its thing.
The heron was soon spooked by another so I took that as a cue to move on and with the sun starting to set I wandered down towards the beach. It was a lot busier than normal so I looked for a quieter spot and the birds had a similar idea. I found a group of plovers and spent a bit of time with these as they fed on the sand, including a very fast-moving Wilson's Plover.
The light went from relatively flat to amazing in next to no time and one of the last image of my trip was of a Sanderling making it's way down to the shoreline to roost. The sunset was one of the best of the trip and it seemed fitting to end the trip with a wonderful little wader bathed in some of the best light I've experienced.
As you've probably realised, I'd had an incredible week. The variety and abundance of birds, their often confiding nature, combined with the scenary and weather made for a perfect week of photography. Had I not felt the need to unwind during this trip, I'd no doubt have taken many more more photos but I had an absolute blast and I highly recommend the Gulf Coast as a bird photography destination. It really is very special and I would go back in a heartbeat. Thank you for reading and if you want to see more images, check out my various galleries, which I'm updating on a regular basis.
Keywords: Bird Photography, Birds, Coast, Florida, Florida Bird Photography, Florida Birds, Fort Myers, Gulf, Photography, Shorebirds
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