I have to say that getting up between 4am and 6.30am is not every bodies idea of a break and i am now at home feeling like i could do with a holiday to get over the last one, Our week basically went like this, Drive to Florida on the Saturday and stay at St Augustine until Wednesday, I would shoot at the Gator Farm early morning and evening, After the Gator Farm closed i would shoot at the beach until dark, During the day we would shoot at the old town for scenics and have day trips around the area as far as Daytona Beach, Move down the coast on Wednesday to Satellite Beach and shoot at Merritt Island and surrounding areas, That was the plan at least and as i had never been to Merriit Island i was exciting to go,
So lets start at the beginning, St Augustine Gator farm that i ended my last blog with, Its a great place to shoot all kinds of herons and egrets with the bonus of Spoonbills and Storks, Its a busy place bird wise and there are thousands of birds coming and going, It can get too much and you have to stand back and make a plan if you want to come away with great images, I found it best to keep and eye on a couple of nests in the right light and get the birds coming and going to those particular places, The birds stalling as they try to stop giving the best looking images, Whilst waiting i would keep an eye open for any birds flying in my piece of sky and by that i mean i had the sun on my back and had chosen an area of sky that would give good results right in front of me, Either side would not get such good light, I used a flash with a better beamer set at +1 to light the under side of the wings without blowing out the whites, I came to the +1 after some experimental shots and for that place it worked well, You can get incredibly close to the birds at the nests, Look back at the last blog of mine and you will see a head shot of a tri-colored heron, That was shot with a Sigma 150 macro lens!! It has been 2 years since my last visit and at that time Roseate Spoonbills had just started to use the park, Now there are plenty there nesting so and a couple of nests were close to the boardwalk and visible, The chicks were quite active so some nice shots were on the cards, One day i heard a loud pop/splash near me and looked as a young Woodstork landed in the water, It looked around dazed as gators came from every angle, A few seconds later it was taken, To my surprise the gator popped up and headed my way and as it got closer the chick lifted its head took a breath and then the gator dived and that was a very sad end for the chick but thats nature, People ask why the birds would nest in such a dangerous place and the answer is that there is a higher success rate there than in the wild where raccoons and snakes etc take the eggs,
One day we went down to the famous biker hang out-Daytona beach, Like Martin i am a bike lover, After Photography its my biggest passion and i rarely miss a Moto GP or World Superbike race on the TV, I was hoping to get to Laguna Seca this year and cheer on Valentino Rossi but will miss that by a couple of weeks so hopefully next year, Daytona beach is a great place although busy with people, the beaches are flat and very clean, the sand is fine and there are few shells, You can drive on most of it without the need for a 4x4 so thats what we did and found a spot with some birds on it and set up, People come and go and you either get strange looks or questions but over all i came away with some of the nicest cleanest images i have made so far and without the need of much processing, I used a skimmer pod with the Acra Tech long lens head and Acra Tech leveling base, It worked well with the D800 and 600 as long as you found the balance point and kept a small tension on the head to stop it flopping over, I see a lot of people using Gimbal heads and have them very loose, I prefer a small amount of tension in both axis and find i get a sharper image that way,
The weather at the start and middle of the week was not the best and on the Monday and Tuesday the afternoon sessions at the gator farm were rained off, I have to say that after a couple of days there i had had enough, Its very enjoyable but i preferred my beach sessions where it was just me and the birds, I am not one for crowded places but either way its a good place to learn and experiment,
I used the D800 most of the time for 2 reasons, Firstly the AF is better than the D3s and by a fair margin, Shooting them side by side you could easily tell that the D800 is both faster at acquiring focus and keeps focus even when the bird is flying in and out of busy backgrounds, The D3s is no slouch in that department but the new AF in the D800 simply out classes it, The D4 with its speed and same AF must be some machine, The 2nd reason is that i am shoot for stock agencies and the files sizes are all important, I can crop an image in half and still have a bigger file than the D3s uncropped, add to that the extra resolution and detail captured by the D800 and the D3s becomes the back up camera-who would have ever thought that, The D800 really is a big step forward in digital imaging rather than the normal incremental step associated with new bodies,
We went to Satellite beach which is close to Cocoa beach for the last few days so that i could travel to Merritt Island NWR, MIWLR is a big place but unfortunately there seemed to be little in the way of wildlife, I only went twice as it was an hour or so from where we were staying but apart from some Green herons with chicks there wasnt anything better than i had shot before, I have seen some great images from there so it can be a great place but just not when i was there, One day when we left there we stopped at a State Park to see what was there, It was on the edge of a large river and there was a small bay off of the river, Whilst we were there a Manatee entered the bay and we went into the water and it came over to say hello which was a real bonus, There was some turtles nesting on the beach each night that we were there but we never managed to see them, Just their tracks left in the sand, We even went to the beach at 4am on the last morning in the hope of seeing some turtles and also a rocket going up at Canaveral which was set for 4.55am but was aborted, We also missed the turtles and not by much as the tracks we clearly visible all the way down to the sea, There were 3 turtles nesting that night and about 15 nests in the few days that we were there, Great to see that they are still about. Whilst i was there i did manage to get some sun rises so all was not lost.
The Skimmer pod available on the Naturescapes web site is awesome for ground photography, If you make sure that the sea is distant you loose any horizon giving a magical feel to the image, Nothing has been removed from these images, The beaches were fine sand and very very clear of stones or shells,
When i got home i checked the bluebirds nest box only to find that all but one of the eggs had gone and the egg that was left was broken, I guess another case of being predated by something like a raccoon , The hummingbirds are now very active with 2 males fighting over the territory, Hopefully i will find time to get some images of them this week when i am not stuck behind the PC