Birds of Prey – Ponce de Leon Park – Punta Gorda, Florida

Lately, I have been shooting the subject that I started with many years ago….birds. I know this is a shock to some of you, but don’t roll out the red carpet just yet. Since I live in Florida there are endless shore birds to photograph. I’m not against these creatures, however since they are everywhere I have seem to have lost my gumption to shoot this type of subject. While I have been out on my class field trips, I have had the opportunity to photograph some birds of prey. These are the suckers that don’t take crap from no one and rule the air.

OK, I’m getting a little wound up. Let’s take a step back and explain a few things. When I’m out, I’ll shoot anything, which is good and bad. I don’t try to take photos, just for the sake of pushing the button. I try and get something useful out of the scene so I actually go home with some possibilities instead of the “spray and pray” technique (you know who you are 🙂 When you have many lenses at your disposal, I try and discipline myself to only take one lens when I go. I switch up lenses every shoot so it forces me to work differently every time I go out. Case in point, a recent field trip to Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. This may sound familiar to you as I have written many posts at this location such as: Being Crabby – Ponce de Leon Park – Punta Gorda, Florida and Crab Cakes at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.

When you have visited a particular place many times, it can be a challenge to get something new. Since I knew I was going down to Ponce de Leon Park, I took my all around zoom lens, my Nikon 70mm-300mm. This lens is light, sharp, fast and best of all…affordable. Going through the mangroves and boardwalk you never know what you are going to find. Sometimes it’s a hit and others a miss. During this particular visit, we were there later in the day. As the class went on, the golden light appeared and this changed everything. We could see the different types of birds coming in to nest for the night. We knew at least we had a chance of going home with something.

 Spencer Pullen photographed this yellow crowned night heron at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, FloridaYellow Crown Night Heron – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

This is a classic problem the subject is backlit and I knew this was going to be an issue. This is one of the few times that I take my lens shade off the lens since I’m going to use the pop up flash. Pop up flash and I usually don’t get along, but it’s all I had and what I was going to use. Taking off the lens hood ensures that the flash won’t cast a strange half moon shadow on the subject. I popped up the flash and set it to the “nuclear” mode, this is the full power setting. Normally I don’t recommend this, however I was a little further back than I wanted to be. Pop up flashes are only good for about six to ten feet if you are lucky. All I could do at this point was hope that some of the light was going to make it to this dark feathered subject. When I got home and looked at the photo on a real monitor and not the back of my camera, I was impressed. As you can see from the above photo, the light from the flash did make it and helped bring out the detail on the shadow side of the bird, otherwise this would have been a beautiful silhouette.

 Pelican fishing in a no fishing zone. Photo by Spencer Pullen at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.Pelican In A No Fishing Zone – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

Most of you know I have a warped sense of humor. We saw this pelican sitting on a pylon that had a sign attached that said “No Fishing”. I have a feeling the pelican was doing just that. Everyone in our group took a few of these. Here you can see that late afternoon light really starting to show.

 Red shoulder hawk looking at Spencer Pullen at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.Red Shoulder Hawk – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

As we were getting ready to leave we heard the signature call of a hawk of some kind. One of the students in the group had located it earlier, but it moved to a new position. As we were about to leave the area, she found it again. We pointed our cameras towards the sky and started ripping frames. In the above photo, I think he is trying to decide whether he can pick me up for a meal or not!

 Spencer Pullen photographed this red shoulder hawk looking aloft at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida.Red Shoulder Hawk Looking Aloft – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

The afternoon light really gave him a nice rim light effect and the palm tree that he was sitting in offered some shade and we were able to hold the details. It was windy and the leaves of the palm were going all over the place. I was shooting continuous and hoping that I would get at least one good frame, I actually got two!

Mating pair of Red Shoulder Hawks in a tree at Ponce de Leon Park in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photos by Spencer Pullen. Parents Discussing What To Do With The Kids – Spencer Pullen © 2014 All Rights Reserved

After a little while, the pair of hawks flew to an adjacent tree and was facing the light. This was perfect. As we were photographing them, we heard the call of a baby hawk. We figured that Mom and Dad needed a break and was enjoying the sunset.

There you have it, birds on a mission to find something for dinner. There is always something going on out there, even in the back yard. Take a lens that you have and go see what you can find. This is a great time of year as it’s not too hot or cold. The animals will be out and active due to the nice weather. Shoot lots, but try and make it count so you don’t come home with 4,000 photos of blurry rocks…I’m just sayin’!

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. Nice Spencer. I hear there is an owl’s nest at Selby Gardens. We should go take pictures!

  2. nice work spence. there is an owl in our oak every year. I hear a chick now.
    super cool idea you are working on . I would participate for sure.

  3. Great pics, Spencer. Also, would love to check out the owl(s).

  4. Very interesting Spencer and great photos as well!

  5. Love the two hawks together shot.

  6. Great shots! I really like the picture of the pelican.

  7. Loved all the bird shots especially the “Red Shoulder Hawk Looking Aloft”. His expression is interesting as well as seeing the wind you were talking about reflected in the movement of his breast feathers.

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