THE BIRDS AND BEACHES OF ST AUGUSTINE
Wading birds like to nest in places protected from predators, especially from small mammals who like to dine on their eggs and chicks. In the southeast US alligators often provide that protection, though they themselves are likely to be rewarded with a bird dinner from time to time. What better place for a bird rookery, then, than an alligator farm? The St. Augustine Alligator Farm has been raising and displaying alligators since the 1890's. Eight different bird species have chosen to build over 500 nests in the trees here. It's quite an amazing sight and a magnet for photographers every April and May. While I usually prefer to hunt a bit more for my images, there's no denying the Farm provides some wonderful bird watching as well as photography. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Click Here or on any of the thumbnails below to see more of my images from my visit to the rookery.
The beaches of St. Augustine and areas a bit south are generally not super intensively developed or crowded, have easy public access to both the ocean and sound side, and are dotted with various state, federal and local natural areas. Good places to spend some time exploring. I enjoyed watching shore birds, some doing courtship displays, visiting some of the natural areas, and trying to make some photos of the birds and the fascinating and surprising sections of rocky shoreline. An area of Florida from St. Augustine south to Boca Raton is apparently sitting on a sedimentary rock called Anastasia Limestone. Locally it's called coquina. In most places it is below ground or under water. In fact coquina rock has been quarried in Florida since the 1600's. In a few places, including an area about 15 miles south of St. Augustine, it's exposed, making for some beach terrain one would not expect to see in Florida. Click the photo below for more images of this part of the Florida coast.
OSPREYS, URBAN WETLANDS & MORE ROCKY BEACHES
(Skip the chatter below and go straight to the photos HERE)
Blue Cypress Lake -- This 6500 acre lake in Indian County west of Vero Beach is home to an incredible number of nesting ospreys. One way to get on the lake is via Middleton's Fish Camp on one of their pontoon boats. Some images from a morning's outing there (Click each image to see larger one) --
Town Wetlands -- Several communities in Florida have made use of constructed wetlands to put the finishing touches on water coming through their treatment plants. These places have become havens for quite an array of water loving birds and other wildlife as well as being beautiful places that are popular for recreation. I visited two of these wetlands this spring, Veira Wetlands in Brevard county and Green Caye Wetlands in Boynton Beach. Viera is 2000 acres criss-crossed with drivable berms (weather permitting). Green Caye, at 100 acres, is much smaller but includes a 1.5 mile boardwalk and a nature center. In addition to many bird species and alligators, a family of bob cats has taken up residence there too, though I missed all three of their appearances on the morning I visited. There are more images in the main album, or you may click on any of the images below for a larger version --
Blowing Rocks Preserve -- Images of the Coquina or Anastasia Limestone beaches near St Augustine are include in the first section above. Further south on Jupiter Island is a more extensive area of limestone formation on land restored and managed by The Nature Conservancy as Blowing Rocks Preserve. The sound side as well as the dunes and beach are included in this preserve and are well worth a visit. Check out the main album or click the images below for a few more views of the beach here.
MERRITT ISLAND NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Other places I visited on this spring"s Florida trip provided an abundance of easy photo ops. I enjoyed them thoroughly. But there is something to be said for having to work a little more for your shots -- spending time and effort looking for cool stuff that might make a good image. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has lots of "stuff" and lots of places to look, so time spent here bumping down the dusty roads trying to find critters to photograph was definitely my favorite part of the trip.
The refuge has 140,000 acres and many different habitats -- coastal dunes, saltwater estuaries and marshes, fresh water ponds and impoundments, pine forests hardwood hammocks, scrub and grasslands. It's home to 500 species of wildlife including 15 threatened or endangered species. Over 300 species of birds have been spotted here, with December through February being the peak time. My visit in late April was past prime time, but still provided some nice bird watching and photography opportunities.
So, if you have an opportunity you may want to consider spending some time here one winter. Adjacent Titusville has reasonably priced lodging and at least one pleasant campground of which I made use. For a sample of what I saw and photographed, follow this link or click on any of the images below.