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Adventures in Florida

 Maybe there's more to Florida that you haven't seen or thought about. It can be a series of adventures from one day to the next. 

Entertainature! ...or Nature as EntertainmentFlorida Monarch Butterfly

As far back as either of us can remember, we had always been enchanted with wildlife. Butterflies, birds and animals of all sizes had interested us. Later in life we each had families and regarded with pride the deference shown by our children to the plant and animal kingdom. So it's no surprise to us that we have paired up and now share one of the more pleasurable pursuits in life. It's an engaging activity that spawns adventure after adventure, reacquaints us with our childhood memories and fulfills some of our basic needs.

 

We're neither birders nor photographers but for our thrills, we sure like to get out and find Florida wildlife to photograph. It actually works out well for us in our advancing years because it provides us with a great deal of exercise and stimulates us to investigate, study and learn. In South Florida, where we live, birds are the easiest wildlife to find. A trip to the local park; a day at the beach; or even a drive through some of the more rural areas can provide one with very good bird viewing opportunities. These are the big birds I'm talking about - herons, egrets, pelicans, osprey and others - what I've heard referred to as "the glamour birds."

 

While the small birds are fun to follow and view, it's the large birds that are the show-stoppers. Few people look at the mockingbird perched on a railing at the beach; but replace it with a snowy egret and everyone wants to check it out. Folks crowd in from everywhere when an osprey or brown pelican starts to powerdive for fish or a great blue heron strolls down the beach looking for lunch. It's fun, spontaneous and unpredictable. This is bird-Hollywood; this is real entertainment!

 

Hunting the Big BirdsRoseate Spoonbill - Sanibel Island, Florida

We like the big birds and we hunt the big birds. It isn't guns we're shooting though, it's pictures. It's not big game in Africa, either, although you can run across some scary alligators now and then... this is Florida, after all. We go to the parks and beaches; nature preserves, state forests; basically anywhere we think we can find some big birds. We like the drive-through parks the best. You can cover a lot of ground moving around an area in the car, stopping when necessary for that exploratory walk. Birds aren't on the clock and they're always coming and going. It may take 2, 3, 4 or more passes through the same area before you see any birds or see different birds. No passive "wait-time" for us, though, we like to be moving around, pursuing the action.

 

The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is an example of a great drive-through park. The entrance fee is modest and the receipt allows exit and re-entry all day. It's a paved 6-mile drive winding through shallow bay waters and mangrove thickets. You can stop and park virtually anywhere and there are hiking, biking and canoe/kayak trails for the more adventurous. Ding Darling might be the Hollywood Boulevard of the "glamour bird" kingdom. Virtually any day of the week some of the best of the big birds can be seen here. Summer is probably the least satisfying time with the heat, bugs and all but it is still very good compared to many other spots. One more thing; those scary alligators we told you about? -there's plenty here.

 

Focus Your Mind & Body - Not Just Your Camera

You'll learn about these large birds from referencing some of the many published field guides and web sites. Soon you'll understand that a single good picture won't be Anhinga - Venice, Floridaenough. You'll want some portrait shots for better identification or to see the eye color; some birds just have great eyes. When you see the winter and springtime mating plumage, you'll probably want a shot or two. Then, for some birds, the adolescent form is so different and beautiful that you'll want a few shots of the juveniles. Chicks are very cute, too and you can't avoid wanting some additional shots. And, of course, these big birds fly and you'll want to try your luck at securing a few good in-flight photos. Further, there's birds feeding, birds nest building, birds interacting with one another- the list goes on and on. You probably won't be able to get all the shots you want in one single place so be prepared to be up before dawn each day and ready to travel.

 

You'll need to get into pretty good shape to get all these pictures. The birds don't exactly stand around posing. In fact, if you point a camera at them, they're more likely to take flight than give you a big smile. Stealth is the operative word here. You'll need to move along with them as they go about their business. Sometimes you'll stand motionless waiting for your shot; other times you may be forced into the thickets, creeping like an Indian scout. You may end up wading into the water or crawling out on a limb; walking miles into the woods or canoeing through long, shallow mangrove trails so your energy and fitness levels should be good. It's a great pastime, superbly rewarding and it'll motivate and help you get into fairly decent shape as a bonus.

 

The Right Tool for the Job

Our camera selections are those consumer-type, point-and-shoot digital cameras that anybody can use. Unlike film-based cameras, there's no extra cost involved with taking digital pictures. We take lots of shots, dump them to the computer and sort out the good ones later. We upgraded from our original Olympus model C-730 with aVenice, Florida Photographers 10-power optical zoom to the Digital Rebel by Canon. The latter is a digital single lens reflex (dSLR) camera which allows us to change lenses because sometimes you need to photograph something far away and magnify it; then something small and close needs a different lens. Sure, it's more expensive but at least we have cameras that can capture the type of imagery and subject matter we like. And it's still pretty much point-and-shoot. Even my long lens (Sigma 170-500 mm) allows the focus and light level to be set automatically; all I do is point and press the shutter button.

 

Still, I have to be close enough to my subjects to get decent photos, compose and frame the picture, have enough light at the best angle and hold the camera as motionless as possible. This all can be pretty tricky when you've crawled into a mangrove thicket and are perched a few feet over the water, leaning out through the branches to get the best take of some elusive wading bird. When you've aced that shot though, it's a thrill. Maybe it's not like photographing the teeth of a great white shark at Australia's Great Barrier Reef but for personal satisfaction, it's about as good as it gets.

 

We love the 13x19 inch prints we make at home with our Canon model i9100 inkjet printer, too. It doubles as our business printer but is surprisingly economical producing photos. To show off these beautiful images we even bought a little jig that allows us to cut mats for our prints and we turn out fine 18x24 framed and matted pictures. We decorate our house with the best selections but have been known to prepare a few as gifts for family and friends. Talk about a pleasant present! There are also many Internet photo shops that will prepare almost any size print you request. Simply send them the digital picture file via email; they'll print it and mail the finished product back to you.

 

Blend it with Your Life

We take a lot of day trips and enjoy them immensely. We try to get up early and get toGreat Blue Heron and Chick the site at daybreak. A few hours in the morning will generally be the best of the day's picture taking and we'll have the remainder of the day to do other things - including naps. It's pretty rare to have a session go into lunchtime and unless we're somewhere doing a lot of trail walking, we're usually back home by then.

 

This activity isn't for everyone but for anyone with a penchant for a little excitement, a budget for reasonably priced toys, a body needing some moderate activity and a mind that needs to know, it can't be beat.

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