Thursday, December 31, 2009

Photographing Birds in Florida: Viera Wetlands

Like the Blue Heron facility in TItusville, the Viera Wetlands (recently renamed the Ritch Grissom Memorial Weltands) is a facility designed to store and recycle water used in the area. It is a 200 acre facility divided into four ponds or cells. There are roads around each of the cells and they
offer opportunity to view Florida's native wildlife and vegetation. Viera Wetlands can be
reached by driving south on Interstate toward the Melbourne area. Exit at the Wickham Road
exit and follow the signs to the wetland. A map of the facility is available on the website for the facility and as you enter the facility.

I have visited this site numerous times as part of the Space Coast Birding Festival conducted in January. I have some great shots of feeding snowy egrets, mating Great Blue Herons, ibises,
Sand Hill Cranes, and others. On one trip I saw an eagle and I understand that there is a pair of nesting caracaras in the area (though I've only seen them in the distance). Enjoy this facility.

If interested, the Brevard County Zoo is only a short drive away.

Photographing Birds in Florida: Blue Heron Water Reclamation Center

The Blue Heron Water Reclamation Facility is located just outside Titusville along state route 50.

It is a water retention facilty where storm water runoff is confined into six settling ponds. Around the edge of the ponds is an elevated berm with a one-way road where photographers can photograph birds that are in those ponds.

The entrance to the site is located about 1/4 mile west of Interstate 95 on Route 50. As you travel west toward Orlando, you will see a sign for a golfing resort on your left. You will need to turn left there (make a U-turn) and head back toward Titusville. About one block after the U-turn the
entrance road will be on your right.

As you enter the facility there is an entrance gate. Pass through the gate and park in front of the first building on your left. You will need to sign in. They welcome visitors from 7:00-3:30 Monday - Friday (weekends will require a phone call to make a reservation). You sign in as you enter and must sign out when you leave.

By the sign-up sheet is a photo book of photos taken by visitors to the site; I'm proud that in that book is an image of a Great Blue Heron with a huge frog in its mouth that I took there during one of my early visits (see images at the bottom of this page).

From the administration building you drive on toward the berm (well-marked). Once on the berm just drive around the ponds (approximately two miles) and the birds will on your driver's side.
As is usual, the numbers and types of birds present where vary by time of year, time of day, etc.

Some trips are very productive and others not so much. I sometimes visit in early morning and return later in the day for a second time. Overall this is site you should visit when you are in the Titusville area.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Photographing Birds in Florida: Merrit Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has become my favorite place to photograph wildlife in Forida. I have photographed in the Everglades, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Fort Desoto State Park in St. Petersburg and many other Florida sites. All offer their strengths, but my trips to Merritt have been the most consistently productive photographic trips I've taken.

My advice is when you enter the refuge go to the Visitor Center and find out which roads are open and which are closed. You can also ask them about birds or wildlife spotted in the area recently. There is a quarter-mile walking path (boardwalk) behind the center which will take you to a pond and prairie area. I have never had a great deal of luck in spotting birds on this walkway (though there may be some osprey nesting at certain times), but I have photographed butterflies at certain times of the year.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is on the same island as Cape Kennedy and thus is closed when shuttle launches occur and when they return to the Florida landing site, but these are rare (and will be more so in the future). The most popular bird photography site on the refuge is the Black Point Wildlife Drive. This one-way road takes you on a winding five mile journey throughout the refuge. Along the drive you will pass freshwater marshes, shallow saline beaches, and (depending on the tide) various depths of water. The result is often a plethora of wading and shore birds. The birds encountered depends on time of year (whether migrants are present or not), time of day (early morning and late evening usually the best), tide changes (depth of water determines which birds can feed there at any given time). At time you will have water on both sides of the road and something to photography on both sides. While it is a one-way road which is rather narrow there are pull-offs at intervals and even in the in-between areas if you pull over to photograph, other cars can get by.

About two-thirds of the way through there is a pull off area with restrooms, an elevated Observation deck and a five-mile loop hiking trail (the Cruikshank Trail). I have never hiked the entire trail, but often hike short distances to "stretch my legs".

As you near the end of the drive, you will encounter a fork in the road. To your left is L-Pond Road and to the right is the road to the exit. IF L-Pond is open, take it. You will wind got another two miles or so. Here the road is not paved and is very narrow; there are places where two cars can barely pass each other (L-Pond is NOT one-way and sometimes fisherman enter and are driving toward you). Usually you can see each other coming and one of you will find a wider area to pull over to let the other pass. Along this road, there are many instances where there is water on both sides of the road. L-Pond is open about half the time I visit the island. If closed just follow the right fork to the exit to the Wildlife Drive.

Another site where you can photograph from your car is Biolab Road. This is a three mile road which runs along the edge of Mosquito Lagoon (on your left) and other fresh-water ponds on your right. I have spotted shore birds along the Lagoon shore and wading birds in the freshwater ponds.
This used to be my favorite site (it is less-traveled by regular tourists), but it seems that recently its
productivity is down. Near the end of the road you can see the launching pads for the Shuttles.
Perhaps my favorite photography road now is Peacock Pocket Road. It is a sand (and often poorly maintained) road which winds for seven-miles around the edges of a bay called Peacock Pocket. It is a very narrow road and is not usually heavily traveled. This is an area where two cars will often have very limited space to pass (often one will have to find a "pull out" and wait for the other). In recent years this has been my best source of photos. One time when I took the seven-mile drive and counted over 80 alligators sunning themselves along the canals that you drive by. I often take a couple of hours to make one trip along this trail. To access this road, after crossing the drawbridge from Titusville and passing the entrance to the Wildlife Refuge, turn right on the first road on your right.

For those inclined to hike and photograph there are some walking trails that you may wish to try (I do NOT count myself among those who like to hike and photograph). Again consult the map to locate those trails.
I have spent many hours exploring and photographing this site....for photography it truly is an island with Merritt!! Have a blast.

MIndmeld Photography: Looking Ahead to 2010

As 2010 begins my plans for Mindmeld Photography are to continue seeking publishing and presentation opportunities.
Thus far I have received ten requests for presentations in 2010. One I am very much looking forward to making a presentation before the St. Louis Camera Club in mid-April. I will continue to pursue publishing opportunites as well.
In late January I will again attend the Space Coast Birding Festival in TItusville, Florida. While Arthur Morris will not be present this year, bird photographers Milton Heiberg, Reineir Munguia, and Joanne WIlliams will return and I have signed up for in-the-field workshops with them. I am also
going to participate in a workshop lead by Robert Ameruso. I plan to go to Florida near the middle of the month to do additional bird photography in the area.
I have five presentation scheduled for February (four on Abraham Lincoln). In March I will have my third Photography Display at Rock Springs Environmental Center in my hometown.
In April, I will make a presentation on "Bird Biology and Photography" to the St. Louis Camera Club in St. Louis, Missouri. The next morning I will leave for my 41st Elderhostel program in Santa Fe, NM. The theme of the program is "Tony Hillerman: Author". I am a major fan of his mystery novels which involve two Navaho Tribal Policemen who solve crimes on the Navaho Reservation.
Having participated in three Elderhostels involving learning about the tribe, while reading the novels I can relate to the places sited and think to myself "I've been there". Mr. Hillerman's daughter is scheduled to appear to talk about her father as part of the program.
On my way to and from Santa Fe, I plan to visit and photograph sites along the Santa Fe Trail.
While going TO Santa Fe I plan to take the "mountain" trail over Raton Pass in Colorado; I hope to return FROM Santa Fe via the Cimarron River (Desert) branch of the SFT. I look forward to his adventure and have been reading about the sites I will visit.
In May I will return to Florida as I participate in my 50th High School Reunion program for
Lyman High School. I only lived in Florida for my senior year in high school and have missed previous reunions. In recent years I have reestablished contact with some of my classmates and met with them a few times over dinner during my Florida visits. I look forward to seeing even more of my classmates at this celebration.
Of course while in Florida I will do some bird photography. I will likely visit Gatorland Zoo in Orlando and/or St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoo in St. Augustine, Florida. These sites are noted as great bird nesting sites in Florida with great access for photographers.
Later in the summer I hope to do some Elderhostels in the West (maybe back to Montana where I've done six (Glacier National Park?).
I am looking forward to another great year for Mindmeld Photography.

Mindmeld Photography: A Summary of 2009

In 2002 I began thinking of organizing a photography business. My goals were to write and publish magazine articles, to make PowerPoint presentations on various topics to local groups, and to sell photos. In 2009, I continued working toward those goals.

"Business" Achievements:

My 10th article entitled "The Santa Fe Trail in Missouri" was published in the September / October issue of AAA Midwest Traveler magazine
In 2009 I made 28 slide presentations. Of these presentations 12 were about Abraham Lincoln (understandable since we celebrated the bicentennial of his birth), nine were about bird/wildlife photography, and six were about some aspect of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
One of my most unique presentations was given at the Illinois History Conference on "Using Photography to Teach History in the Classroom". There I spoke to an audience of 40 history teachers. I had hoped that the presentation would stimulate requests for presenting the program locally to more teachers, but as yet that had not occurred. In September I made a "Lincoln" program presentation to about 120 at the Heart of Illinois Investors Conference in Springfield. I also made my second presentation to the Missouri Nature and Environmental Photographers club in St. Louis.

Elerhostel Programs:

In 2009 I attended five Elderhostel programs (bringing my total to 40).
In January I learned about the wildlife of Florida at an Elderhostel in St. Petersburg. While there I was able to photograph birds at Fort DeSoto State Park a well-recognized bird photography site in western Florida.
In March I attended two Elderhostels in Lafayette, Louisiana. While participating I learned much about the history and food of the Cajun culture and had the opportunity to photograph wildlife at Lake Martin and other sites in south-central Louisiana.
In May I participated in an Elderhostel in Chadron, Nebraska and learned about the history and culture of the Lakota Sioux tribe (including a visit to Wounded Knee). On the way to this site, I stopped at Valentine, Nebraska to photograph wildlife at Fort Niobrara and Valentine National Wildlife Refuges. I also stopped at a number of steamboat museums along my journey.
Finally, in September, I traveled to the Cincinnati, Ohio area for an Elderhostel on the history of Cincinnati, Steamboating, and the Ohio River. On my way to this Elderhostel

I revisited Abraham Lincoln sites in Indiana and Kentucky.

Other Activities:

In other activities. In January, I attended the 12 Annual Space Coast Birding Festival in Titusville, a five-day celebration of birding and bird photography. While there, I participated in in-the-field workshop by such noted bird photographers as Arthur Morris, Milton Heiberg, Reinier Munguia, and Joanne Williams. I also attended classroom sessions by these photographers an others. I plan to return to this festival in 2010.
In September I attended the 12 Santa Fe Trail Symposium in Arrow Rock, Missouri. There I learned much more about the history of the Santa Fe Trail. This has stimulated me further to want to complete and photograph this historic trail (I have already done so for most of the Lewis-Clark Trail, California-Oregon Trail, and Mormon Trail).
Also in 2009 I had my second Photography Show at Rock Springs Center (and have been asked to another in 2010).

Overall, 2009 was a very productive year for Mindmeld Photography and Don Chamberlain. I also have many opportunities to visit with and photograph my beautiful granddaughter. Throughout the year I took more that 2000 photos of her.
I thoroughly recommend retirement (providing you take advantage of the freedoms which come with it).