August was a low point for my photography this year. I only got out 2 weekends, and on one of those weekends, I only took 7 images, all of which I trashed. August is like that here in Florida. Hot, humid and just downright miserable for wildlife and humans to be out and about. So I was anxious to start September with a good weekend of shooting.
This weekend, I decided to head down to Osceola county and check out some of the flat dry prairies south of Kissimmee. Well, its not completely dry as there are some low areas that collect water, and there are lots of lakes. But what this area provides is an opportunity to see wildlife that is not found in a marsh. Florida has many marshes that are ideal for watching wildlife and getting some great photography. My wife likes to call these areas swamps, and to some extent, she’s right. But the swamps and marshes generally have the same kind of wildlife. All your wading birds can be found there, alligators, otters, ducks, shorebirds and other water-loving wildlife.
But in the drier prairies, you can find many diverse species. Along the lakes you’ll find the usual wading birds, but that is generally not all you see. Take for example the Fox Squirrel. On Saturday, I came upon 4 of these guys frolicking in the morning dew. They were climbing trees, chasing each other, and at one point, very curious about the photographer in the green SUV. These squirrels are quite different than the usual gray squirrel you might see in your yard. First, they are much larger, have a long bushy tail, and very sharp nails on their paws. Check out the manicure on this guy. Fox Squirrels are somewhat common in Florida, but not in urban areas. You have to venture out into the rural areas to find them. This is my first successful image of a Fox Squirrel and I’m quite happy to get it. You can see how the morning dew has matted down his fur, and the early morning sunrise provides a nice warm color.
I also saw plenty of Barn Swallows out on the road to Lake Cypress. I’ve seen Barn Swallows before, but never perched like this. They are always flying around, dodging and weaving through the air while catching insects. They are quite graceful and a joy to watch, but they are terribly difficult to photograph while flying. So I was happy to come upon several Barn Swallows perched on a wire above the road.
Now, as I mentioned, I was on the road to Lake Cypress, and it was on a Saturday, so there were other cars heading down to the lake. Every vehicle heading to the lake was a large pickup truck trailering either an airboat or a fishing boat. Lake Cypress road is a dirt road with hardly anyone else on it, so these guys were flying down the road on the way to the lake. They zoom by you at 45+ MPH and they leave a huge trail of white dust from the road behind them.
So it was my luck that as I came upon the Barn Swallows on the wire, here come two huge pickups with airboats screaming towards the lake. I had to make a quick decision. Do I snap off a few shots before the birds are spooked and risk getting my camera covered in dust? Or do I play it safe and wait for the disturbance and dust to clear. I had never had a chance at a Barn Swallow perched before, so I had to take the risk. I fired off 2 or 3 shots, then pulled the camera back in the car and rolled up the window just as the local NASCAR wannabes zoomed by. I felt sure that the birds would be gone, and sure enough, they all took off.
But as luck would have it, one swallow returned to the exact same spot as before and started preening. It was truly my lucky day. The light wasn’t in my favor where I was parked, but I didn’t dare move the car and startle the swallow. Instead I just kept shooting and I got some terrific images.
Next I headed over to Joe Overstreet Landing, which is a popular camping and airboat ramp on Lake Kissimmee, just south of Lake Cypress. There wasn’t much going on there, but I took a few minutes to stretch my legs at the landing and walk around. There was a very large flock of Cattle Egrets loafing on the grass next to the lake. I didn’t pay much attention to them as I have hundreds of Cattle Egret images from Gatorland. Plus the sun was getting pretty high, so there wasn’t good opportunities for photography. In the distance I kept hearing a bird calling that I thought was from an Osprey. I was looking around for the source when suddenly all the Cattle Egrets took off. At that point I knew I wasn’t looking for an Osprey, but I was looking for a Bald Eagle. Sure enough, in swoops one, then a second Bald Eagle right over where the Cattle Egrets were as the eagles headed out to the lake to fish. And where was my camera? Back in the car 50 feet away. Doh!!!
So I watched the 2 eagles, who were soon joined by 2 more, fishing in the lake. I watched one pick up a fish then head back to their roost which is next to the landing. Without thinking, I grabbed my camera, focused, and started shooting. Neither eagle was close enough for a great shot, but that wasn’t the worst part. It never occurred to me to head over to where the Cattle Egrets were as the eagles would surely pass right over that same spot again as they headed towards their roost. They did exactly that and I could have kicked myself. I was so intent on getting an image that I never looked around to see if I could have a better vantage point. I would have had time to get over there too, but I never thought of it.
Finally on the way back I was contemplating heading over to 3 Lakes Wildlife Management Area when I saw something land in a small shallow lake next to the road. It was obviously a sandpiper or shorebird of some type, but what kind? I spent 10 minutes trying to maneuver to a better vantage point to get some photos, hoping not to flush the bird before I got a decent image for identification purposes. I got this image and a few others before he took off. I pulled out my Kaufman’s Field Guide and did a quick review and determined that I had seen my first Solitary Sandpiper. I was anxious to get home to see what images I had captured.
So that was my Saturday morning, and as the title suggests, it was a good day. In fact, it was a very good day.