Category Archives: Florida

Photography from a Kayak off the shore of Long Key

Searching for birds at Long Key State Park

Photography from a kayak is something I always wanted to do and Long Key State Park is an excellent area for kayaking. The park is located on mile marker #67 in the Florida Keys. The park ranger advised not to go into the inside lagoon because low tide was about to drain out most of the water in that area. The wind was calm early that morning but the weather forecast called for winds to increase out of the east. The wind always blows whenever I decide to go down to the Keys. A small friendly shark’s dorsal fin broke the surface of the shallow water while preparing to head out into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I decided to head east along the southern shore of Long Key. The water clarity was incredible and soon found more sharks and stingrays cruising the flats.

Keep the camera gear protected and tied down

I wrapped the camera and lens in a towel and stuffed it inside a dry bag. I also brought a tripod with a gimbal head. Everything was tied to a safety strap in case I accidentally rolled over. The outgoing tide was exposing a nice shallow grassy flat with birds searching for food. Every time I spotted a bird I wanted to shoot, I had to secure the tripod in place and attach the camera to the gimbal head. Paddling in a kayak requires that I have nothing in front of me so I could not keep the tripod in the right position. I managed to move it forward so I could paddle. If paddling for a short distance without risk of too much splashing, I would keep the camera wrapped in the towel in my lap. If paddling hard for longer distances, the camera had to go back on the dry bag. Getting the camera in and out of the bag and securing it to the tripod’s gimbal head became a bit of a project. A couple of times I spotted ospreys flying around and I wanted to capture an image of them in flight. As soon as I removed the camera from the tripod and lifted it up to my eye level, my center of gravity was raised and I felt the kayak become unstable. I tried to keep control but lifting and swinging around those almost 7 pounds of camera gear in order to follow a flying bird kept throwing my balance off. I could not do it. The camera had to stay on the tripod. The wind increased later that morning and the sun was too high so it was time to get out of the water. I now understand that all weight must be minimized so I will use a lighter tripod with a smaller ball head. A larger dry bag or a Pelican hard case could make it easier to get the camera in and out.

photography from a kayak off Long Key

Low tide crawl on the shallow flats off Long Key

photography from a kayak Blue Heron

The height of the Blue Heron must give them an advantage when fishing

photogrpahy from a kayak Reddish Egret

Little Blue Herons are common around these waters

Double Crested Cormorant photography from a kayak

A Double Crested Cormorant dries its feathers in the wind

photography from a kayak White Egret

Great Egrets are a tough bird to capture in bright light

First Day Hike – the New Year means more hiking

The New Year started with a good first day hike

The first day of 2017 found me crossing the state on Highway 60 east of Lake Wales before reaching the Turnpike. While driving east, I noticed the familiar brown colored sign indicating another Great Florida Birding Trail location was around the corner. It was getting a late in the morning but I still decided to checkout the property. I was hoping to take a couple of quick photos before getting back on the road. The place looked interesting and the map on the information board indicated a couple of short trails. There was a trail leading to a campsite and another ending in an observation deck over a wetland. When water is near, things can get very interesting quickly.

A French company ran a logging operation around here a century ago

The site was named SUMICA. It stands for Societe Universelle Mining Industrie, Commerce et Agriculture which is the French company that had timber rights to the land. The town of SUMICA was established in 1917 and logging operations went on for 10 years. After logging was no longer viable, the town was abandoned in 1927. The hiking trail follows an old railroad bed raised above the surrounding wet prairies. The hike started on a wide open trail. Halfway into the trail, a canopy of trees turned the landscape into a great looking trail that I have not seen in South Florida before. Maybe it was the unseasonal warm temperatures or the bright sunlight of the late morning but there were not many birds around. Definitely a place that I want to explore again.

Hiking trail to the east. Campsite trail to the west.

Hiking trail to the east. Campsite trail to the west.

Trail starts open and wide.

Trail starts open and wide.

Tree canopy provides shade for the next half mile.

Tree canopy provides shade for the next half mile.

The end of the trail invites more explopration.

The end of the trail invites more exploration but the brush gets thick.

An observation deck is located at the end of the hiking trail.

An observation deck over a wetland is located at the end of the hiking trail.

I was not ready for these sandhill cranes flying over while I was trying to capture a landscape image.

I was not ready for these sandhill cranes flying over while I was trying to capture a landscape image.

Hiking in Florida’s natural areas during the dry season

It was a long hot summer but hiking weather is finally here

Hiking season is finally here. It was a long hot summer with record breaking temperatures. We also had to scramble and prepare for a late season storm in October. We were lucky that hurricane Matthew turned north over the Gulfstream instead of landing on our shore. Cooler drier weather has moved in and hopefully will remain until late in the Spring season.  The lower humidity, cooler temperatures, and higher winds will keep the mosquitos and other biting insects under control.  These are ideal conditions for exploring some of our nature preserves and going out on hikes. In spite of receiving no rain for over a month now, water levels remain high in some areas so I will have to return later to explore these trails.

The annual bird migrations are under way

Migratory birds are arriving every day. These birds as well as other local residents are putting up quite a show. The images below were captured during a few hours late one afternoon. The location is considered part of the Northeast Everglades Natural Area. The best areas are always surrounded by water. Some of the species you can expect to see include the Anhinga, Limpkin, and Ibis. I have found a few Red Belly Woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) but they have avoided stepping under the good light so I could photograph them. Always assume there are alligators in these canals and lagoons. Look carefully along the shoreline of any body of water. Do not get too close. Gators can be faster than you think when crawling on dry land.

 

red belly woodpecker melanerpes carolinus hiking Florida

Red belly woodpeckers (Melanerpes carolinus) are notorious for never facing the good light

 

observation deck sunset watch hiking Florida

This observation deck is a great location for watching sunsets. I will have to return on a good stormy day with dramatic skies.

 

american white ibis black wing tips hiking Florida

Black wing tips on an Ibis (Eudocimus albus) are only seen while flying

 

greater yellowlegs hiking Florida

This greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) was digging for food in a shallow lagoon

 

loop trail sign hiking Florida

The water level was still high so I will return later in the Winter to explore.

 

american white ibis hiking Florida

Birds were becoming more active as the sun was setting

 

Anhinga anhinga hiking Florida

I was able to get very close to this Anhinga

 

alligator Florida hiking

Gators are always watching you

Snook on the beach fishing report

The week started with dirty water

The week started out with no Snook and only dirty water. Heavy rain pushed dirty water out the inlets and the dark water covered the beaches resulting in lost visibility. Water on our beaches should be clear and blue. Normally, water quality should be so clean and inviting that even the sharks will not keep you away from jumping in for a refreshing dip. Instead, we end up with stained water that looks like coffee after heavy rain. Light onshore or southerly winds helped to clear the water by Thursday. It is not back to perfect conditions but hopefully the water is on its way back to being blue again. The weekend saw stiff westerly winds which suppressed any waves in the surf. These were perfect conditions to go out and chase one of my favorite species of fish.

Snook cruise the beaches in the Summer

Every year many fishermen wait anxiously for the Summer run of Snook on the beach. It is time to chase these beautiful fish with the fly rod. The fish are in spawning mode and congregate in the inlets and roam the beaches. They terrorize the baitfish schools while feeding. The fish swim very close to shore and you can easily see them in the clean water. The fly rod is a good way to present a small white fly with some silver flash that resembles the glass minnows and sardines that the fish are eating. Snook on the beach is one of my preferred targets for fly fishing. I released all fish alive. The week started slow but ended up producing five fish during the last three days of fishing. Three Snook plus a big Ladyfish came from the same section of beach on Thursday and Friday. A beach further up north produced two other Snook on Saturday. These were small fish around 20 to 22 inches (50 to 56 centimeters). I have seen two really big fish in the surf. Here are some images captured with the phone. I have to carry a real camera next time.

Dirty water earlier in the week

Dirty water earlier in the week

Snook sometimes jump during the fight

Snook sometimes jump during the fight

This is a big Ladyfish

This is a big Ladyfish

Small Snook on a small white fly tied on a #4 hook

This small Snook ate a small white fly tied on a #4 hook

Notice the dark lateral line of the Snook

Notice the dark lateral line of the Snook

Calm surf is perfect for fly fishing

Calm surf is perfect for fly fishing

hook in the corner of the mouth

You can see the hook in the corner of the mouth

Leatherback hatchlings from last Summer

Summer has arrived in south Florida

Our cooler weather here in south Florida did not last long. We have slipped right into summer conditions. Temperatures today have reached 86F/30C with a relative humidity of 56%. They are predicting another cold front by Sunday. The cool dry air will not last long. After this next cold front, we probably will not see drier air until the middle of October again. Humidity and temperatures will start climbing before the end of March so it is time to explore the beaches and enjoy the sea breeze.

Turtle season runs from March thru October in south Florida

Sea turtle season has also started. The season runs from March until the end of October. Thousands of turtles will soon start arriving on east coast beaches to lay eggs. We had a record season last year. My first encounter with nesting sea turtles occurred a few years ago. I was lucky to be on the beach at the end of the day when a female leatherback turtle weighing hundreds of pounds crawled onto the beach and started digging a nest. The three main species that nest in Florida are leatherback, loggerhead, and green sea turtles. Florida’s most common variety of sea turtle is the loggerhead which averages over 200 lb/90 kg. The leatherback is much bigger and reaches 1,540 lb/700 kg.

Last summer while searching for fish near the water’s edge, I noticed the biologists running in their all terrain vehicles up and down the beach. They conduct surveys of the turtle nests during the season. One of the scientists, stopped her all terrain vehicle and started digging in the sand not far from where I was standing. The images below tell the rest of the story. If you are lucky you might find a leatherback next time you go to the beach. Don’t forget that plastic is deadly to turtles and other animals. Bring a bag with you to the beach and haul out some plastic trash.

 

biologist digs a turtle nest

Research biologist digs out a turtle nest

 

leatherback turtle eggs and nest

Turtle eggs are soft shelled and are buried deep in the sand

leatherback hatchling

Just out of the nest and facing a long way to the water’s edge

leatherback flippers

Notice the large well developed flippers on this leatherback

biologists survey turtle nest

The nest must be covered after the inspection

leatherback turtle hatchlings

These two turtles are reaching the water’s edge

Everglades National Park

The dry season is the best time to visit

The Everglades has two very distinct seasons – the dry season which runs from November to April and the wet season which lasts from May to November. It was the last weekend in February and a cold front was predicted to push through the peninsula bringing cooler drier air. I wanted to take advantage of the improved hiking conditions so I decided to explore the Everglades National Park. The dry season down here attracts many birds. The wet season brings out the insects. Believe me when I say it is not a lot of fun to go out fishing or hiking with bugs all around you. Insects can be present all the time. Even during the dry season visitors to the park should be prepared for mosquitoes and a variety of biting flies.

The 3rd largest national park in the lower 48 states, behind Yellowstone National Park and Death Valley National Park

The Everglades spans across 1.5 million acres that stretch over the southern part of Florida. The park has three main areas. We entered through the Homestead visitor center to get maps and trail information. The park ranger informed us that high water levels had scattered the birds and wildlife throughout the park. Visiting the Everglades lets you explore a vast diversity of eco-systems. There is a lot of area to explore and I can see myself spending a week here but I only had 2 days. Some of the trails that we explored were the Eco Pond trail, the Anhinga trail, the Gumbo Limbo trail, the Pahayokee overlook, and the Mahogany Hammock trail. Looks like another visit will happen soon. Here are some images from my visit.

anhinga everglades

The anhinga is a large bird that likes to dry out its feathers in the sun

mockingbird everglades

The northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) is renowned for its mimicking ability

butterfly

The Ecopond trail was full of butterflies. Here is a Junonia evarete

cardinal everglades

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). The male was not far behind.

hermit thrush everglades

Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) forage on the forest floor for insects

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

A very windy afternoon on the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge

The wind gusts reached 30 miles per hour on a recent visit to the the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is located in western Palm Beach county in Florida – about 7 miles west of Boynton Beach. Winter is the best time to get out and explore the marshes and swamps that many migratory birds call home for the season. In the southern region of the state it has been a very rainy winter with cold fronts bringing heavy rain every week. Dry cold air and clear sunny skies take hold a day or two after the rain clears. The high water levels in the swamps and sloughs attract a lot of birds that feed in these waters. This region is part of the Everglades and the water moves slowly towards the Gulf Of Mexico in the south and west. More information on the refuge here on their website – Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Bird and wildlife photography without a long lens

I have to confess that I am mostly a landscape photographer and that I lack the necessary equipment to photograph birds. Birds are small subjects and move very fast. They require fast long lenses in order to capture good images. In many cases a focal length of 400 mm lens is the minimum lens size necessary for this type of photography. The images that you see here were captured with a 105 mm lens and they are heavily cropped. In addition to hikes in natural areas I also run into many birds when I am out fishing in the kayak. I think that I will be acquiring a long lens very soon.

American coots (Fulica americana) are omnivorous birds

While walking around one of the canals in the refuge I ran into many pairs of coots. They are omnivorous birds that eat primarily algae and other aquatic plants, insects, small fish, and crustaceans. While observing their behavior I noticed that they were diving looking for food. You can see one of the birds is eating a small weed. These birds resemble some kind of duck but tend to have short, rounded wings and are weak fliers. When they take off to fly they look like they are walking in water.

The great blue heron (Ardea herodias) is a large wading bird

Blue herons are large grey blue birds with a wingspan of 167–201 cm (66–79 in).
They are common near the shores of open water and in wetlands over most of North America and Central America, as well as the Caribbean and the Galápagos Islands. Although rare, Ardeas herodias has been observed in Europe, with records from Spain, the Azores, England, and the Netherlands. Other species of herons inhabit Europe and Asia. These wading birds can be seen around lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes and on the sea coast. It feeds mostly on aquatic creatures which it catches after standing stationary beside or in the water or stalking its prey through the shallows. They have a harsh, deep, hoarse and aggressive call that when disturbed or taking flight will scare you. I have also run into them while kayaking around the mangroves. If you have not spotted them first, their loud noise will definitively scare you.

canal-slough-loxahatchee-wildlife-refuge-florida

Wind gusts of 30 miles/hour make difficult any landscape photography. Here is a view of one of the canals in the refuge.

Loxahatchee-wildlife-refuge-florida-blue-heron-wingspan

The wingspan of a Great Blue Heron is impressive

Loxahatchee-wildlife-refuge-florida-duck-blind

A covered observation deck or duck blind offers a good view out into a pond

Loxahatchee-wildlife-refuge-florida-coot

We encountered numerous pairs of Coots

Loxahatchee-wildlife-refuge-florida-coot-feeding

A Coot diving in search of food came up eating some weed

Loxahatchee-wildlife-refuge-florida-coot-flying

Coots are not great fliers so when taking off they look like they are walking on top of the water

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge

The Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge is an important sea turtle nesting habitat

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge is divided into two areas bisected by the Indian River Lagoon. The refuge is located 20 miles north of West Palm Beach in Martin County, Florida. The oceanfront section is a 735 acre tract on Jupiter island. This stretch of beach provides some of the most productive sea turtle nesting habitat in the United States. Earlier last summer I was fortunate to discover some turtle “activity”. More about turtles on my next blog post. I am sure you will love it. The other section of the refuge is a 300 acre sand pine scrub tract that is highly valued because so much of this natural area has been lost to development in Florida. I have yet to explore this other section of the refuge. I am much more interested on the beach side. In addition to turtle nests, you can find a variety of birds that migrate here throughout the year. I am not a bird photographer and I lack the necessary equipment for capturing images of birds in flight. That may change soon as I discover more interesting birds.

 

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Un habitat importante para las tortugas marinas

El refugio de vida silvestre de Hobe Sound esta dividido en dos secciones. El Indian River Lagoon divide el sector de la playa y el sector del breñal en el interior. Esta segunda región se compone principalmente de un bosque templado de coníferos. La reserva se encuentra a unos 32 km de West Palm Beach en el condado de Martin en Florida. La seccion de la playa tiene un area de 300 hectareas y se encuentra en el extremo norte de Jupiter island. Este estrecho de playa es uno de los habitats mas importantes para la reproduccion de tortugas marinas en Estados Unidos. Durante el verano pasado pude observar muchas tortugas en esta playa. Luego publico mas acerca de estas tortugas. La otra seccion del refugio consiste de 120 hectareas pobladas por pinos y palmeras. Esta otra seccion del refugio representa un tipo de habitat que practicamente ha desaparecido en la Florida. Tengo que explorar este otro lado luego ya que siempre termino cruzando a la playa. Ademas de tortugas, podran encontrar varias especies de ave que migran por aqui. No soy un fotografo de aves y no tengo el equipo necesario para tomar fotos de pajaros en vuelo. Eso puede cambiar pronto ya que las aves son un mundo interesante por si solo.

Kayak cruising in the shallow water flats of Florida

Kayak cruising in calm inshore waters

The weather in Florida allows you to go kayaking any day of the year. There are plenty of warm sunny days with light wind. During the summer months it is important to go early and get out of the water before noon. The combination of summer heat and strong thunderstorms becomes really dangerous and forces you to get out of the water early. You must pay attention to the clouds and lightning. Being surrounded by thunderstorms is not a lot of fun. A heat stroke is also a possibility. It is important to stay well hydrated during the warm months. Sometimes you must get out of the water by 11:00 AM or even earlier. Cooler days in the spring or fall seasons are better. In the winter, cooler water temperatures allow you to start the day a bit later. No need to wake up so early as sometimes the fish become more active when the sun warms up the shallow water flats in the afternoon. Lots of inshore areas with easy access allow you to launch your kayak and explore the coast. You can explore both the Gulf and Atlantic inshore waterways. The Gulf side offers many options with places like Chokoloskee, Rookery Bay, Sanibel Island, Estero Bay, and Pine Island. On the Atlantic side there is easy access to the Indian River Lagoon, the Mosquito Lagoon, and the No Motor Zone of the Banana River. These estuaries are important habitats that harbor all kinds of marine life and birds. These ecosystems are really special and the variety of life is incredible. When navigating these waters you may run into sharks, turtles, dolphin, alligators, or even manatees. If you slide your kayak into these waters you can be rewarded with a very peaceful relaxing experience that will involve nothing but the sound of fish splashing, birds diving into the water, and the wind.

 

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Navegando en kayak por aguas tranquilas

El clima en Florida permite salir en kayak durante todo el año. Cualquier día soleado con viento calmado es ideal para echar el kayak al agua. Es muy importante comenzar temprano durante los meses de verano. Será necesario salir del agua antes del mediodía porque el calor es verdaderamente horrible. El verano trae fuerte tormentas electricas. Si escuhan tronar es hora de echar a remar a toda velocidad. Tambien hay que evitar un infarto causado por el calor. Hay que tomar mucha agua durante los meses calurosos. Como a eso de las 11:00 AM ya hay que salir del agua. Los dias frescos de primavera y otoño son preferibles. En el invierno, las frías temperauras del agua permiten comenzar el día un poco mas tarde. No es necesario levantarse muy temprano ya que los peces se ponen mas activos cuando el sol calienta el agua en los bajos por la tarde. Existen muchos puntos de partida con fácil acceso a las bahías. La zona del Golfo tiene lugares muy interesantes como Chokoloskee, Rookery Bay, Sanibel Island, Estero Bay, y Pine Island. La costa del este ofrece el Indian River Lagoon, el Mosquito Lagoon, y la zona libre de motor del Banana River. Todas estas son areas de habitat marino muy importantes. Estos estuarios tambien atrae muchas aves. La variedad de vida silvestre es verdaderamente increíble. Al navegar por estas agua podran observar tiburones, tortugas, delfines, cocodrilos, o manaties. Deslizar el kayak por estas aguas nos recompensará con una experiencia muy tranquila y relajante. No escucharan mas que el sonido de los peces saltando, los pajaros tirandose al agua, y alguna ráfaga de viento.

Reflecting on the past year

It is important to reflect on the last year

As we start the new year, I think it is a good exercise to stop for a few minutes and think about this past year. I´ve been very fortunate in 2014. After an extended trip late in 2013, I decided to stay close to home in 2014. Even though I did not travel anywhere, I was fortunate to have a large collection of images. Processing these images transported me to many of the beautiful countries and places where I met so many interesting people. I hope that 2015 brings me more travel and adventures. Some new camera gear is also on the list. Work and other changes kept me from looking after my blog in 2014. I was fortunate to have so many friends all over the world. The statistical review at the end of the year reveals that besides the USA, the blog has many visitors from countries like Spain, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Australia, and the Netherlands among many others. I want to thank everyone of you who took the time to read and comment on my blog. I hope you enjoyed your holidays and best wishes for 2015! Many of us will prepare a long list of resolutions for the new year. One of my personal objectives for this year is to spend more time on the water. I have already started working on it.

Es importante reflexionar y proponerse nuevas metas

Antes de comenzar el año nuevo me gustaría reflexionar sobre todo lo ocurrido en el 2014.
Fue un año duro con mucho trabajo y muchos cambios que no siempre me permitieron dedicarle mucho tiempo a mi blog.  Aunque físicamente no viajé a ningun sitio, pude contar con una gran colección de imágenes que virtualmente me transportaban a muchos de los sitios de mis viajes anteriores donde conocí tanta gente interesante.  Es increíble pero todavía tengo muchas fotos mas para procesar. Aunque publiqué mucho menos entradas, el blog ha crecido mucho.  Las estadisticas parecen indicar que ademas de USA tengo muchos visitantes de paises como España, UK, Francia, Alemania, Italia, y Australia, y los Paises Bajos.  Espero que sea así de verdad. Quiero agradecerles a todos los que tomaron unos minutos para leer y comentar en el blog.  Espero que todo ande bien y que el 2015 les traiga mucha paz, alegría, y muchos viajes mas. Ya pronto preparamos nuestras resoluciones para el año nuevo. Uno de los objetivos es el pasar mas tiempo en el agua. Por lo visto ya estoy trabajando en eso.

florida-winter-beach-warm weather

Winter is shaping up to be a bit warm

florida-beach-pier-sand dune-warm weather-winter

More walks on the beach should be one of your objectives for the new year

warm weather-winter-florida-beach-pier

Warm blue water comes very close to shore

jellyfish-florida-beach-winter

Watch out for these jellyfish

jellyfish-florida-beach-winter-portuguese man o'war

This Portuguese Man O’War can inflict a painful sting

florida-jupiter inlet

This channel may seem tranquil right now but navigating thru it can be very tricky sometimes

blowing rocks-jupiter-waves-florida

Waves crashing at Blowing Rocks shoot up thru the rock crevices

jupiter inlet-florida-fishing-boat

A new day brings great expectations