This article is
as both a travel log for my recent 2-week trip to Florida and also a
for those planning a birding or bird-photography trip to the Sunshine
State. During my trip I encountered many other photographers and
birders, and collected many useful tips on photographing birds in this
state, including the locations of numerous other sites that weren’t
originally on my itinerary. This information is difficult to find
on the internet without spending many hours browsing through forums and
the like. Hopefully this article will save you some time if
you’re planning such a trip.
The photos accompanying this article were all taken by me at
described locations, and should give you some indication of the types
of images you can reasonably expect to get on a short trip, with
reasonably good equipment. Keep in mind that many of the other
site guides you’ll find on the internet feature images taken by local
residents who can afford to spend hundreds of hours out in the field
capturing prize-winning images, which won’t in general be
representative of what you can reasonably expect to get yourself during
a whirlwind tour of a dozen sites spanning hundreds of miles, during a
brief two-week vacation. In contrast, the images you see here
should be somewhat more representative of what a serious birder can
collect on a short trip, though it should be noted that I did work very
hard to collect these images and I do have very good equipment, so you
may need to adjust your expectations accordingly.
Some Useful Statistics
During my 14-day trip I took a total of 30,798 photos (yes,
2,200 photos per day. The most photos I took in a day was 4,494
(Little Estero + Sanibel),
and the least was 1,023 (Tigertail + Corkscrew). The 30,000+
photos took up somewhat less
than half a terabyte (358 GB). After returning home, I spent two
weeks browsing through those images to select the 191 photos included
in this report. I shot everything in RAW (10
Megapixels) and backed up all photos daily onto twin 1 TB external USB
drives. In the field I kept 8 memory cards (8 GB each), which I
never filled up completely in one day. The drive down from Durham
(NC) to Miami was 824 miles, and took about 12 and a half hours, which
I made in two trips (stopping for the night in Orlando). Hundreds
of miles of additional driving were required to get from site to site,
and in commuting to/from the hotel each morning and evening. I
stayed in four different hotels, working only the sites nearest my
current hotel before moving on to the next hotel and the next set of
nearby birding sites. I birded a total of 14 different
sites. Hotel costs totaled roughly $2000. Note
that I was limited in my hotel options, since my "significant other"
happens to be a labrador retriever. Costs for toll
roads in Florida
were easily well over $100. Cheap food and beer were easy to
gasoline was around $2/gal, and my compact car used up
plenty of it...
This journal is split
into 14 pages, by entry date.
To begin reading the
or just scroll down this page.
here to view these
photos as a slideshow
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Stilt at Eco Pond in the Everglades.
wide-open at f/5.6. 1/1000 sec, set manually,
1250. No flash.
the photographic equipment used on this trip is
See also my new book:
the drive from Orlando to Miami, I spotted the only Sandhill Crane seen
during my entire trip —
unfortunately, I was doing 75 mph on a toll
road (rt. 91) and couldn’t pull over to get a photo. As soon as I
entered Florida I did notice that there were quite a number of active
osprey nests along the highway. Back up in North Carolina,
ospreys won’t be nesting for several months yet.
My first stop was at the bridge to Islamorda in the Keys (off the
southernmost tip of Florida), where I let my dog swim in the clearest
water I’ve ever seen:
Ocean view from
Islamorda in the Florida Keys.
Canon EOS 1D Mark III camera, Tokina 12-24mm wide-angle lens.
Focal length 18mm, f/9, ISO 250. HDR composite from three exposures
(1/4000 sec, 1/1250 sec, 1/400 sec). Hand-held.
I ended up wading in the water myself to get this
photo (above) — something I would
never consider doing in North
Carolina in February. I then backtracked to the Wild Bird Center
in Key Largo (actually, Tavernier), where I spent the afternoon
photographing wild birds at extremely close ranges. The center is
actually a bird rehabilitation facility, but at 3:30pm every day they
throw fish to the wild pelicans out on the beach, who eagerly line up
for the free food. The photo below is a bit blurry because I only
shot it for illustration purposes and wasn’t concerned about quality:
frenzy at Wild Bird Center in Key Largo.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 200mm, f/7.1.
1/500 sec, set manually. ISO 320. No flash.
About 45 minutes prior to feeding time, the
pelicans start to come in to the beach area of the center in
droves. It occurred to me that I might be able to get some good
pelican flight shots showing the birds coming in for a landing head-on,
though the angle of light from the sun made that a bit tough. By
wading out a bit into the water and hunkering down against the center’s
beach cages I was able to get one or two decent shots, though many
showed poorly-lit undersides of birds. Through a combination of a
lucky angle and strong fill flash I was able to light up the underside
of this bird fairly well, though some of the highlights in the head got
at Wild Bird Center, Key Largo.
70-200mm f/2.8L lens at 130mm, f/7.1. 1/1000 sec (manual), ISO
Fill flash on high-speed sync at +3.
Later in the afternoon, as the sun fell toward
horizon, I explored my options for some back-lit photography. A
handful of snowy egrets provided willing subjects at close range:
Snowy Egret at
Wild Bird Center, Key Largo.
400mm at f/5. 1/500 sec (manual), ISO 320. No flash.
It’s interesting to contrast the above photo with
one shown below, which was taken just a few minutes later.
Whereas the bird above was in front of the sun, providing a uniform
white background via reflections in the water, the bird below was
photographed with the sun at my back. Both shots were taken at a
fairly wide aperture of f/5,
accounting for the blurred foregrounds and
backgrounds. Note also that both photos were taken with the
camera at roughly eye-level with the bird. In order to do this I
had to squat so low in the water that my rear-end got quite soaked (to
the amusement of some of the tourists).
Snowy Egret at
Wild Bird Center, Key Largo.
400mm f/5, 1/1600 sec (manual), ISO 320. No flash.
A bit earlier in the afternoon I got some
head shots of the pelicans by using a 1.4x teleconverter on my 400mm
lens (see below). Note that at the Wild Bird Center on Key Largo,
you can get shots like this with much smaller focal lengths up on the
boardwalk, since the birds will literally waddle right up to you and
let you take their picture at point-blank range. Getting a head
shot with blue sky in the background was easier out on the beach,
though, and there I needed the larger focal length.
Canon 400mm f/4DO lens + 1.4x teleconverter. 560mm at f/11,
1/2000 sec (manual), ISO 500. Flash on high-speed sync at +3.
The kind, old woman who apparently runs this
informed me that they have one of the very best vantage points for
sunsets anywhere in the Keys. Fortunately, the Center doesn’t
have strict opening or closing times (there are no gates on the
boardwalk or in the parking lot or driveway), so you’re free to hang
out and catch the sunset out on the beach with the birds:
400mm at f/6.3. 1/800 sec (set manually), ISO 400.
Below you can see a more expansive view of the ocean
Center. The wooden contraption in the foreground is some sort of
platform which the pelicans like to congregate on in the early
afternoon. The water at mid-tide is low enough that you can
easily wade out there to photograph them if you like.
Sunset at Wild
Bird Center, Key Largo.
Tokina 12-24 wide angle lens at 20mm, ISO 400. Hand-held.
HDR image composed from five apertures (f/13, f/9, f/6.3, f/4.5, f/4).
All-in-all, today’s trip to the Wild Bird Center at
Key Largo was very
pleasant. In the days to come, I will return here several times
to pursue the many photographic opportunities this place offers.
Some quick notes on the Center: entry is free, though a $5 donation is
requested (I gave more than that); the staff are mostly very pleasant
and highly accommodating
and eager to please; the parking lot is, unfortunately, miniscule —
seem to recall that it had no more than about 8 or 10 parking spaces,
so if you plan on being there for feeding time, you might want to try
to get a space by about 2pm or so.