A few months ago, a few of my photography buddies got together and we decided to go to Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida to hide for a while. I think the real reason was that one of my friends wanted to field test my 80mm-400mm before she called B&H. However, being a prepared photographer I have the B&H app on my iPhone and my fellow friends use it quite frequently! The reason why we went other than to have a photographer’s holiday was that we got a tip that there were large number of Roseate Spoonbills in the area. As some of you know who have been reading the blog posts for a while that I don’t consider myself a bird photographer. I give it my best shot (pun intended), but I wouldn’t make a very good Audubon member. With all of that said, one of my good friends, Linda whose work has appeared here a couple of times is a great bird photographer. To support her habit and my other good friend Gail who always wants to get “closer” (this is her nickname as it saves times in discussions!), we piled into the car and were on our way.
When the three of us get together it’s like Larry the Cable Guy and two runway models. There isn’t shortness of laughs and that is what photography is supposed to be….FUN! We made our way to the weir on one of the lakes in the park and we could see pink puffballs in the trees. Sure enough, the tip we got was accurate and there were birds all over the place. As with all of these shoots, nothing is going to go as planned. To get “closer” as Miss Gail would say, we had to cross the weir. Where I come from this is called a dam. So here on out, I’m calling this thing a dam. So, me being me, as we are crossing this structure, I’m acting like a bad tour guide making remarks like, “Feel free to ask all of the dam questions and take all of the dam pictures you like.” We got laughing so hard, we damn (I even slipped it in again!) near fell of the one foot walk way. We came to the end of the dam and now there is a new problem, really tall grass. Tall in grass in Florida means one thing and one thing only, snakebite country. A vote was taken and it was decided to let the fat one go first (yours truly…I need some new friends) to scare the crap out of any snakes. At least if I get bit, I know who is sucking out the venom! We got into position and in front of us were two massive trees filled with Spoonbills. I fitted my Nikon with my 400mm lens and shot a few. It wasn’t long and ole’ Closer was at it again, “I need to get closer!” I switched lenses with her and I now I’m using a 200mm lens. While the ladies were shooting away, I kept looking around for unfriendly guests in the tall grass. The Spoonbills were coming and going to the trees. Since I was on snake duty and had a shorter lens on the camera, I was shooting the birds as they were in flight.
Shooting with a fast shutter speed I was able to capture the bird in flight. The wing tips are blurry which I like as it shows a since of motion. Not wanting to be a party pooper, but after all we are standing in grass that comes up to our armpits, we decided to go around to the other side of the dam where there was virtually no grass. As we were on the snakebite side of the dam, I got up on the top of the dam first and it was my job to help these lovely ladies up and over. I positioned myself where I could get a good foothold and this required that I move my big feet apart from each other to help them up. As the last of our party was on her way up, there were some folks yelling at us. Here I am in the middle of helping these ladies up and now I have someone yelling. I yelled over and said, “What’s the problem?” They replied, “Watch out for the Water Moccasin!” . So here I am, spread eagle over this crack in the dam, I look straight down and sure enough, I was face to face with the thing I was afraid that were going to run into. I gave one last yank and got her up and over and I quickly threw myself over. If this snake had decided to get cranky, I would probably be a great soprano singer right now. On the safety side of the dam, we saw some wading birds in grass that was about ¼” tall. This I could work with. At this point, my pride was shot as you could imagine that working with these two, they didn’t let anything slide so I was the “butt” of a few jokes!
As we made our way around the edge of the lake there was a flock of birds wading in the shallow water. I wasn’t about to lie in the mud to get a proper shot. As they saw us coming, they would flush and go a few feet. I don’t have any “bird flushing” photos so this is what I concentrated on.
The longer we stayed, the more the other birds welcomed us and made themselves known. There were a couple of Sandpipers walking along and watching us. Anyone who has seen me lately, knows that I’m pretty hard to miss anyway.
After a little bit a bigger bird came walking along, it was a Tricolored Heron. He was dragging water with him and this again showed motion and this caught my attention. He didn’t seem to mind us, as he was busy getting his lunch for the day.
To our immediate right there were buzzards lying on the ground. I have never seen them do this before; I guessed that they might be lying on eggs. However, when someone docked their boat and left it unattended on the lake shore, it wasn’t long and the Buzzards were in the boat, taking the seat cushions. I motioned over to Captain Numbskull and told him that he was about to have a rough ride back and he gave me a puzzling look. I showed him that his seat cushions were in the process of becoming nesting material. He went back and played tug-of-beak to get his cushions back.
We had enough excitement at the waters edge, as we didn’t want to push it with alligators in the area. We went back over the dam, steering clear of the snake infested crack. Back in the car we went to the canopy walk. I have walked this before, but when you weigh more than the combined weight of your two friends, I decided to skip it as I figured they didn’t want to know what an earthquake in San Francisco would feel like, as I would have stressed the support cables to the limit. While the girls were up looking over the landscape, I walked back around behind the area that was dry enough to explore. Usually this area is too wet to access, but this was the crown jewel for me of the trip. There were these spooky looking trees and all I could see was in black and white for this shot. When the girls caught up with me, the looked around and a smile appeared. We each took a section and started to photographing. With all of the Spanish moss on the trees it almost looks like snow.
For our last stop of the day, we went to the bird walk. As we made our way out onto the boardwalk, there wasn’t a thing in sight for miles. I wasn’t too surprised as it was later in the afternoon and not quite feeding time. As we were discussing the day’s close calls and hoping that we got a few keepers, out of the bushes comes a White Tail Deer. I had seen these here before, but not like I did back in upstate New York. He kept coming closer to us as there was some really fresh grass near the boardwalk that we standing on. We must have photographed this fellow for thirty minutes. Again, not wanting to miss an “action” shot, I was motoring with the camera’s drive system to get one with his mouth in the position that I wanted.
If you get a chance a chance to visit Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida it’s definitely worth the $6 bucks to get in. There is an abundance of wildlife and no one will bother you about tripods or anything else for that matter. Be sure to pack some extra photo gear, take a lunch, fill the car up with great friends and most important, wear snakebite proof pants!
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean