Saturday provided me the opportunity to go to one of my favorite places for hiking, birding, photography and relaxation. Orlando Wetlands Park is in east Orange County and is part of the City of Orlando’s wastewater treatment facility. After being treated, wastewater is piped to the wetlands where it flows through a series of cells on its way to the St. Johns River. The cells are full of plants and animals that further filter and cleanse the water before it makes it to the river. With the cells full of slow-moving water, it is a natural attraction for all kinds of wildlife.
Saturday did not disappoint. On the way in, I was greeted by a White-tailed Deer in the road. As I slowed to let him pass, I noticed another one running full-speed along the side of the road. This was going to be a great day. The hike started with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the low bushes, and a calling Barred Owl in the trees. Although I could see the kinglet and hear the owl, I couldn’t get any images. The kinglet was much too fast and with the sun not even up yet, my shutter speed was way too slow to capture this little guy. I never did see the owl, but he had to be within 50 feet of me. He was very loud, so he was very close.
As the sun rose, I took the opportunity to work in a few landscape images. I had my 100-400mm lens attached and I wish I had brought my 16-40mm lens with me. This beautiful scene would have been that much more dramatic if I would have had a smaller lens with me. I’ll keep that in mind as I expect this beautiful scene repeats itself every day, so I’ll be back and try again.
I decided to do a 5 image, +1 EV capture and work on my HDR skills. I’ve done HDR in the past, but I’ve never been completely satisfied with the results. This is my best effort to date, and while it’s a great image, I’m still not satisfied with it. I didn’t have my tripod with me, so I think that contributes a little to the lack of definition of some of the elements in the image. I think with the tripod and a different lens, I can do much better. Still, I think this is a gorgeous image, but perhaps my opinion is slightly jaded? What do you think about this image?
I saw or heard 45 species of birds Saturday as well as several alligators, the White-tailed Deer and a pair of raccoons. The raccoons were most interesting and they lead into the highlight of my day. I came upon an area where the city had recently dredged up part of the wetlands and cleared away the vegetation. There was a large pile of mud next to the hiking path that had been dug out of the wetlands, probably the day before. As I approached the newly dredged area, I noticed a Limpkin actively searching for snails for breakfast. As I stopped to watch the Limpkin, out of the bushes come a mother raccoon and a smaller raccoon. The smaller one was about half the size of the mother, so he was probably born earlier this Spring. I readied my camera, but the pair never came out of the shadows. I was too far away for the flash to help, even at +3, so I was hoping they would come out in the sunlight. They never did and as they went across the mud and back in to the bushes, I silently thought about how if only I had been a minute or two earlier, I may have been in a better position to get a great image.
It was at that moment that I heard a rustling noise and looked to my left. There on the pile of mud was a Crested Caracara. He had hopped up from behind the mud pile having no idea that I was standing about 30 feet on the other side. Of course I had no idea he was there either otherwise I would have been focused on the Caracara instead of the racccoons. He posed on top of the mud pile for about 30 seconds, giving me ample opportunity to fire off a few frames. He took off and as I watched him fly off, another one came up from behind the mud pile and followed his mate off into the distance. It is situations like this that bring me back to the woods, swamps and marshes of Central Florida time and time again. Although I’ve been to Orlando Wetlands Park several times and not seen anything extraordinary, it is times like this when I DO see things extraordinary that make every trip worthwhile.
There wasn’t much to see after that encounter, although I did flush an American Bittern out of one of the cells. He took flight and was gone before I could swing my camera around and gain focus. And I’m sure that Klaus will be happy to learn that I did see one American Coot out there. I’m sure he’ll be out there ASAP in order to get a great Coot shot!