Florida - Birds and a bobcat

I just returned from a short trip to Florida.  It’s the second time I’ve been in a few years and I continue to be surprised by what it has to offer.  It’s more than overcrowded theme parks and snowbird Canadians that hike their pants up to mid-chest and eat buffet dinners at 4:00.  It’s full of parks, conservation areas, and white sand beaches that go on forever.  All in all, a great recipe for nature photography!  The highlight of my trip was seeing a bobcat, but alas, I did not get a photo.

Last time in Florida I stayed south of Orlando but this time I was invited to stay in a condo with friends of mine in St. Augustine Beach, about an hour south of Jacksonville on the Atlantic coast.  The place was literally right on the ocean.  You walked out the door and bam… beach.  Thanks Brad & Andrea - you were great hosts!

 St. Augustine Beach, Canon 7D with Canon EF-S 10-22mm @ 10mm, 1.6s @ f/22, ISO 200

St. Augustine Beach, Canon 7D with Canon EF-S 10-22mm @ 10mm, 1.6s @ f/22, ISO 200

Upon arrival, I got right to work and scoured the shore for aptly-named shorebirds.  There were willets, ruddy turnstones that seemed completely oblivious to humans, and sanderlings.  I liked to watch the sanderlings as they fed at the ocean’s edge.  They would feed right where the waves stop and when it looked a big wave would cover them, they would hurriedly scurry away from it.  Their feet go a mile a minute!

 Sanderling, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/8000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Sanderling, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/8000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

If you’re ever in Florida and you like nature even a little bit, I strongly recommend that you visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge just east of Titusville.  The Black Point Wildlife Drive is magnificent!  It’s a one-way road through perfect bird habitat that’s about seven miles long with stops along the way.  There are so many herons, egrets, ducks, gulls, terns, spoonbills, and other birds that Brad and I took 4.5 hours to drive it.

 Reddish Egret, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/2000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Reddish Egret, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/2000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

There’s lot of other cool stuff on the road in addition to birds.

 Queen Butterfly, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/2000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Queen Butterfly, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/2000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

 American Alligator, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/400s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

American Alligator, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/400s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

The goal of any trip to Florida is obviously to see Florida Scrub-Jays.  That’s what you were thinking, right?  Or maybe you’re not quite as much of a nature geek as me?  That’s okay, you’re still welcome here.  Florida Scrub-Jay is a unique bird species that exists only in central Florida’s scrub habitat.  In fact, it’s the only bird species that exists only in Florida.  Technically speaking, it’s endemic to Florida.  (I admit it.  I didn’t know that beforehand, but Wikipedia can make even a birding neophyte like me appear somewhat knowledgeable.)  Brad and I did not see a scrub jay on our trip through Merritt Island, so I returned alone a couple of days later to try again.

I saw what I thought was a scrub jay beside the highway in Merritt Island, but it turned out to be a mockingbird (interestingly, with a foot deformity).

 Northern Mockingbird, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/2500s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Northern Mockingbird, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/2500s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Thanks to eBird, I finally found several scrub jays at the south entrance to Canavarel National Seashore.  I watched them move around for about an hour, landing in trees and bracing themselves against the wind.  Note the bands on this one.

 Florida Scrub-Jay, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/800s @ f/8.0, ISO 400

Florida Scrub-Jay, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/800s @ f/8.0, ISO 400

Being further north than my last visit to Florida, I ventured into a few new parks.  I saw a tufted titmouse and some butterflies at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.

 Zebra Longwing, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/500s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Zebra Longwing, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/500s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

I spent quite a while at North Peninsula State Park, a park with more than three kilometres of unspoiled beach.  I bet a talented birder could sit down there and see a ton of species without even moving!

 Snowy Egret, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/5000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Snowy Egret, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/5000s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

 Osprey, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/6400s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Osprey, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/6400s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

 Black-bellied Plover, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/1250s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Black-bellied Plover, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/1250s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

On my final day in Florida, we all headed to Vaill Point Park in St. Augustine.  Brad and I checked out the nearby woods and stumbled upon this beauty.

 Great Horned Owl, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/320s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

Great Horned Owl, Canon 7D with Canon EF 500mm, 1/320s @ f/8.0, ISO 800

It was less than a week, but thank you Florida!