Revisited: Ponce de Leon Park – Punta Gorda, Florida

Recently I took some of my photography students to Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. I have photographed this location many times as there is something for everyone. You might remember my post titled “Peace River Wildlife Center & Ponce de Leon Park”. That post was dedicated to the animals and the folks that take in injured animals and help them get on their own again. This post is going to be more of a virtual walk with me, however you will see a few photos of the animals at the wildlife center as they are always evolving. Recently my posts are getting heavier with photos and content. I hope you as the reader are enjoying them. One last note, on any of the posts click on the photos to see the full size version. So get your virtual shoes on, here we go.

The only thing that I really dislike about doing these classes in the summer is the Florida heat. The average temperature is 95 degrees with the humidity in the 80% range. Every time you go outside it’s like having your own personal sauna right out your front door. Most of my classes start around 9:00 a.m. The light is challenging at this point, but I don’t think my students are going to roll out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to get a photo…at least not yet. When we arrived at the park the first item on the agenda is the boardwalk out in the mangroves. This is mostly a covered walkway so it’s a little cooler. There is a decent chance to see different species of birds and other critters buried in the mangroves as they want to get out of the heat. As we entered the boardwalk I could see we were going to be for the big golden goose egg. There was nothing stirring around. As we continued down the boardwalk I looked in the mangroves and I saw a dark creature moving around. It was a crab, and yes these crabs climb trees. During this class I was also trying out a lens that had been parked in its case for quite some time. I had a 70mm-300mm telephoto lens mounted on my Nikon. I really have come to love this lens, even over my 80mm-400mm. It’s lighter, sharper, focuses quicker and most of all cheaper. With the price difference I was on the fence about the quality of this lens, but after using it for a couple of shoots, it has found a permanent place in my camera bag.

 spencer pullen ponce de leon punta gorda florida tree crabsWalking Crabby – Spencer Pullen © 2012

As you can see from the above photo, the subject is really sharp and the bokah is really creamy (did that statement make me a lens snob?) These little guys are quite skittish so we had to walk gently and move slowly so they wouldn’t make a b-line for the ground.

As we made our way around the boardwalk, we came out empty handed except for the crabs. As we came to where the boardwalk started, I noticed a White Ibis sitting on a lone tree twig. It was clouded over as this provided nature’s softbox. It was the perfect conditions for this photograph. He didn’t seem to mind us as he was pruning his feathers and doing what ever he pleased. I set the camera up for manual as I usually do and I was able to hold the detail in his feathers. This is why I’m a fan of cloudy days unless I’m shooting for black and white; in that case I like harsh lighting conditions. Keeping my rule of thirds in mind, I kept him on the right side of my frame. The 300mm lens on a crop sensor body was giving me the appearance of a 450mm lens and that was enough to reach out and grab him.

 spencer pullen ponce de leon punta gorda florida white ibisGet my good side – Spencer Pullen © 2012

After the boardwalk producing little results, we decided to tour the wildlife center. Some of the animals are in enclosures with wire and other birds are in an open area to eat and bathe themselves in the fountain. As we entered the center, I always look around to see if there is any excitement going on. Right next to me was a Royal Tern taking a bath. There was a piece of wire fence that was between me and the bird so the auto focus on the camera was having a really hard time trying to figure out what I wanted in focus. This was the time for manual focus. I flipped the switch on the lens and dialed it in on the bird’s head. Usually with a situation like this I like to put the lens right on the fence to make the wire disappear, however the way the center is built, this wasn’t possible. I did the next best thing that I could think of at the time, I bent over the railing to close the gap between the fence and me. This actually worked out pretty well as you can see. Shooting in manual mode, I knew I wanted a faster shutter speed to freeze the action. I was shooting into a dark enclosure so I raised my ISO to 800. This allowed me to shoot at 1/1000 of a second at f/5.6.

 spencer pullen ponce de leon punta gorda florida royal tern bathingRoyal Tern taking a tubby – Spencer Pullen © 2012

 spencer pullen ponce de leon punta gorda florida royal tern bathing againGetting the undercarriage clean – Spencer Pullen © 2012

In the open area where some of the birds can wander at their leisure, I spotted a Sandhill Crane. He was busy pruning himself and was posing on one leg. Since I’m 6’4” I was able to shoot over the fence in this case. It was still a cloudy day and the photographer God’s were on my side. I knew I wanted to shoot shallow depth of field to blur the background as to minimize any of the enclosures that were behind him.

 spencer pullen ponce de leon punta gorda florida sandhill craneEvery feather has to be perfect – Spencer Pullen © 2012

In the same space an Anhinga was thinking about taking a bath. What grabbed my attention were his teal eyes. The camera settings were the same as the above with the Sandhill Crane.

 spencer pullen ponce de leon punta gorda florida anhingaTo bathe or not to bathe, that is the question – Spencer Pullen © 2012

After our tour of the wildlife center was over, we decided to get wet. There is a small beach at the park, but it holds a secret. When the tide is out, you are able to walk around the edge of the beach and walk down in the mangroves without getting soaked by the harbor. As we were making our way around the mangroves, we came upon a bird yelling at us. I knew I had this effect on wildlife. There was an adult Yellow Crowned Night Heron (thanks to Linda O’Neill for helping with the bird names, without her, they would be called “white bird”, “gray bird”, well you get the picture) in the tree that was trying to scare us off since his baby was at the waters edge. The sun was out again and normally this would be a bad thing this time of day. Since this guy was kind of in a pocket of mangroves, the light was feathered around him. This made for a great photo opportunity. I was told this is an immature Yellowed Crowned Night Heron.

 spencer pullen ponce de leon punta gorda florida yellowed crowned night heronAnyone bring a snack with you? – Spencer Pullen © 2012

During my travels along the mangroves there were these pods things. That is the technical term. I don’t know what these are, but they were spiny enough for me to grab my attention. These were in the shade so getting even light was no problem.

 spencer pullen ponce de leon punta gorda florida spiny podsBrown spineie looking thingy – Spencer Pullen © 2012

After our trip out to the beach we were drenched and tired. I followed up answering a few questions and we were off to get cooled down. It ended up being a successful trip. Many “professional” photographers have told me that patience is what really makes the photo. At first I was getting discouraged that it was going to be slim pickings during our class field trip, but in the end everyone went home with some amazing photographs.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Great pictures! i have a Canon Rebel but am interested in a smaller camera for European travel. I love my Rebel but am finding it too big/heavy to haul around with me on long vacations, customs, etc. Can you recommend something smaller that would still take good pictures? Thanks!

  2. Those are nickerbean plants. Originally from the West Indies. Used to treat malaria. Also known as the brown spiney thingy 🙂

    • Spencer

      That would have been my next guess..yea right!! Thanks for identifying these for me…


  3. I love visiting the Peace River Wildlife Center & Ponce de Leon Park. GREAT fishing, and fun in the sun. Love the pictures!!!

    • Spencer

      They do a great job out there. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by my blog and comment. Thanks…


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.