Feb 222012

Florida is the eighth most densely populated state in the US, about 60 times the density of my home state of Wyoming. I like my elbow room, but find myself traveling to Florida for what I refer to as “Pockets of Nature”. Travelers waiting for a flight to Florida share excitement over plans for Disney World, beaches, golf courses and the like, but I generally get a blank stare when I mention the Corkscrew Swamp or Wakodahatchee Wetlands. Now I can share a bit of information about these “Pockets of Nature” with some who care.

Alligator, Everglades National Park

These locations are not only great for photography, but are also wonderful for birders and those who are just nature lovers.

It’s the best of Florida and you don’t need to stand in line, make a reservation and admission is often free.

My trips to Florida have all been in the spring, mid-March to early April.

Don’t go in July and claim that I mislead you.

Also, what may have been fantastic one year could be a dog the next – that’s nature.

Generally I photograph from dawn to mid-morning and mid-afternoon to sunset.

Mid-day is reserved for the air-conditioned rental car to get me to the next location.

Great Egrets on Nest, Gatorland

Gatorland – some might think this is just another Orlando tourist trap.

All I’ll say is that I passed through the exhibits as quickly as possible to get to the bird rookery and then had an incredible morning of close-up bird photography.

When I was there in 2011, a zip line was being installed over the rookery.

Hopefully the zip line isn’t too much of a distraction for the birds and those who are there to experience nature.

If you are traveling with the family, this could be the perfect place to keep everybody happy.

Black Skimmer, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located near Titusville, in the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center.

It has 140,000 acres of varied habitats, ranging from coastal dunes to scrub. Get a map on-line or at the visitor center and drive the roads.

My best luck was just after crossing the bridge from Titusville, before the entrance, and on the Black Point Wildlife Drive.

Anhinga Nest, Viera Wetlands

Viera Wetlands (aka Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera) is located in or near Melbourne and is part of Brevard County’s water treatment system – yes it is.

In about 200 acres there is a network of one-way roads along ponds and lakes.

You can drive the roads and photograph from your car.

There are also situations where it works well to get out and use your tripod.

I’ve only been there once, but will definitely return.

Least Bittern, Wakodahatchee Wetlands

Wakodahatchee Wetlands is located in suburban Delray Beach.

At this site, walk on a three-quarter mile boardwalk which gets you close to the birds and other subjects.

I have always had success here.

The wetlands are tied into a Palm Beach County Water Reclamation Facility.

Limpkin, Green Cay Wetlands

Green Cay Wetlands is in suburban Boynton Beach.

This site is also fed by the Palm Beach County Water Reclamation system.

There is a mile and a half of boardwalks and trails to carry your camera gear on.

I’ve photographed a wide variety of birds here and it can be really good, but it was a bit slow the last time – nature rules.

Burrowing Owl, Brian Piccolo Park

Brian Piccolo Park is one of Broward County’s athletic centers with a pool, baseball fields, etc. Yes football fans, that Brian Piccolo.

I wouldn’t go near there on a weekend, but on weekday mornings you can find yourself almost alone with very habituated burrowing owls.

The owls have their burrows in the park lawns. Park maintenance workers mark the burrow sites with stakes and ribbons to keep from mowing over them, or is that so photographers can easily find them?

There’s no variety of subjects here, but I don’t know anywhere else where you can photograph these cute little owls with such ease.

Painted Bunting, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a 14,000 acre preserve located near Naples. There’s a 2.25 mile boardwalk trail that winds through a variety of habitats.

I’ve never gotten a huge number of photos here, but I’ve found birds here that I haven’t had success with anywhere else, namely the painted bunting and barred owl.

Be the first in the gate and you have a great chance of seeing painted buntings near the feeders.

Great Blue Heron, Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park is definitely worth a few days. I prefer the section accessed from the Florida City/Homestead area, which is the nearest place to stay. Start early so you can get to the Anhinga Trail for the best light (at the Royal Palm Visitor Center). From Florida City it will take one-half hour to get there. For me the Anhinga Trail has consistently been the best location for photographing a wide variety of subjects in a short period of time. I wouldn’t go to Florida without planning a few days in the Park and spending the best hours on the Anhinga Trail. The trail itself is a combination of boardwalks and a paved path that is about mile long. When you need a break you can drive to Flamingo where you can find ospreys around the parking lots or perhaps American Crocodiles on the banks of the channel leading to the open water. Flamingo is also the only spot in the Park to buy lunch and other necessities. Along the road to Flamingo there are several lakes and ponds that can also be productive for photography.

Great Egret, Venice Rookery

Venice Rookery is on a small island in the city of Venice. This is a morning shoot, but I recommend you check it out the day before so you can find it in the morning when you are ready to shoot. Photography is from the bank across the water from the island. A lens of 500mm or more is best here. At a minimum you will find herons, egrets, and anhingas and maybe woodpeckers in a dead tree close to the parking area. This is a good location for flight shots as birds fly to and from the rookery.

White Pelicans, J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located on Sanibel Island – yes you can drive to the island. At the refuge there is a 4-mile, one-way, Wildlife Drive which is the primary access.

Along the drive there are plenty of spots to get out of your vehicle to photograph.

Over 200 species of birds have been seen here, as well as a variety of reptiles, amphibians and mammals. At low tides many birds feed on the mud flats

There is much information on these locations and others available on the internet. Just search for any of the locations I’ve mentioned and you will find detailed directions, hours of operations, fees, etc. One site that has a wealth of information on these locations and others is  http://floridabirdingtrail.com.

I hope that you can visit these “Pockets of Nature”, but for now please visit my Florida gallery at http://dongettywildlifephotography.com/p745253625

Don Getty  www.DonGettyWildlifePhotography.com

Don Getty

Don Getty

Don Getty has been an avid wildlife photographer for over 20 years. He resides in Wyoming, just 30 miles from Yellowstone Park. He photographs birds, mammals, reptiles and just about any living creature he can get in front of his lens. Wildlife photography has taken him throughout the Rocky Mountain region of the US and Canada, East Africa, South Africa, Costa Rica, Florida and Churchill Manitoba. He has received numerous awards and his images have appeared in many magazines, books and calendars.

Leave a Comment

  • Rick

    Hi, Don! You have a great site here! Your photos are amazing.

    Please don’t overlook Madison, Florida, as a great birding destination. Located in the north-central part of the state, Madison has a low population density, minimal industrial development and numerous swamps, lakes and springs, PLUS three rivers and two state parks.

    The Lidell Brothers Nature Center, located on the campus of North Florida Community College (NFCC) is a Great Florida Birding Trail site and is open to visitors year-round.

  • Josanz1217

    We are in Florida for six months of the year and I don’t think it’s possible that I’ll see all of its fantastic birding areas in my lifetime, but thank you for posting info of some that are on our short list and others that will be added to it.  Your pictures are outstanding.  As far as getting stares when mentioning birding places, I’ve recently read that birding has now surpassed golfing and fishing as a hobby and that most people who come to Florida do so because of birding.  Yes, there are those who live to go to Disneyworld, but that’s just one place in FL, while the places to bird are located all over the state.    

  • Ken Billington

    Don, I can almost smell the swamp and hear the egrets. Florida has to be on my travel list for later in the year. “I generally get a blank stare when I mention the Corkscrew Swamp or Wakodahatchee Wetlands” – Yes, I can imagine how this would go down with an audience unless they were birders. Congratulations on this fascinating article with outstanding images.

  • http://www.alldigi.com Geoff

    This looks to be a wonderful place for photography. These images are magnificent.

  • Kathleen Pickrell

    Have been to Merritt Island and the Viera Wetlands and have to agree; they are superb for photographing birds.

  • http://www.scalderphotography.com Sandra Calderbank

    Thanks for the wonderful post about Florida Wetlands!

  • http://floridaenvironments.com/ Bruce Ritchie

    Nice photos. I encourage you to visit north Florida as well — St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Ichetucknee Springs State Park (in fall and winter), Big Bend Wildlife Management Area and Leon Sinks in the Apalachicola National Forest, just to name a few.

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