January 24 ~ Wellington, FL
After my unexpectedly great morning at Green Cay Wetlands I stopped to grab some quick lunch then figured I'd scout out Wakodahatchee Wetlands, not far from Green Cay, where I was planning on spending my evening. I knew the mid-day light would be really harsh but I figured I could at least see what kind of wildlife was hanging around there and if it would be worth staying there or going back to Green Cay for the evening light.
It was a perfect sunny day with very comfortable temps and Wakodahatchee was busy but not crowded. I slowly made my way around the boardwalk seeing the normal birds including Anhinga, Purple Gallinule, Gray Swamphen, Double Crested Cormorants, and a surprisingly decent number of Black and White Warblers. Unfortunately there weren't good numbers of birds. While on the boardwalk I heard another photographer mentioning they had an amazing day at a place called Peaceful Waters Sanctuary a day or two prior. This was the second time I heard this location mentioned as someone at Green Cay that morning had said something about it as well. I took a moment to look it up and it was about 25 minutes north of my current location and in the direction of home so I made the decision to head there and try my luck.
I arrived at Peaceful Waters Sanctuary around 3:30pm about 2 hours before sunset. The sanctuary is set right next to a sports complex with soccer and baseball fields surrounding it, a rather unexpected location for a wildlife sanctuary. I got my gear together and headed off towards the entrance, walking right by a group of little kids playing their Sunday soccer game.
As I walked into the entrance I first saw a boardwalk right in front of me. I started on the boardwalk for just a bit and noticed that there was a grass path that went around the perimeter of the sanctuary that also gave water level access which was ideal for the wading birds that could possibly be found at the sanctuary. I turned back after a few minutes on the boardwalk and began walking the perimeter path.
The first group of birds I came upon were a few Roseate Spoonbills but they weren't too close and in rather harsh light that early in the afternoon. I continued on and found a small pool of water with some Glossy Ibis feeding as well as some Snowy Egrets and a few other waders. I mounted my lens to the ground pod (a glorified frisbee to keep the camera and lens low to the ground) and started a slow crawl up to the edge of the pond. The sun was still very bright but I was able to get a nice angle with the light and get a couple of decent shots of the Glossy Ibis feeding and that really showed off the colorful feathers on their wings.
After some time with the Glossy Ibis I snuck back out of that spot and continued walking around the path. I saw a few birds here and there but nothing that cooperated for photography. Eventually I walked around to an area where a few other photographers has gathered. They were all set up on a spot that had a flock of White Pelicans floating around and occasionally more of them were flying in to land and join the flock. The birds were a bit far away for my taste but I did take a couple of photos to document what I saw. While standing there with the group I noticed a group of Roseate Spoonbills in a spot I thought I had a chance of getting close to.
I left the group of photographers behind and walked off on my own to check out the Spoonbills. As I approached the birds I saw a group of 5 of them sitting motionless in the shallows not far from the shoreline. During my time in Florida one of photos high on my wish list was to capture a Spoonbill at water level with really nice morning or evening sunlight. When I saw this setup in front of me I thought this might be my chance. Again I mounted the lens to the ground pod and started my very slow crawl down the sloped bank to a small flat piece of land that jutted out into the water. The sun was going to end up being mostly behind me and slightly to the right which was perfect. As I got closer to the shoreline, the sloped bank behind me kept me in shade which I think helped to hide my approach. Just as I got to the water's edge a Blue-winged Teal swam right by which is pictured below.
I got myself all setup right at water level and I remember thinking I couldn't believe I had this setup right in front of me. The Spoonbills were so close that sometimes when they stood up tall I had to rotate the camera vertically to keep them in the frame. It was pretty much the ideal setup I had imagined. I started working with a group of three birds that were lined up rather nicely, I was able to take many different photos with different birds in focus. The water was also incredibly calm so I was getting some beautiful reflections of the birds as well.
The Spoonbills were incredibly cooperative and stayed right in front of me just doing their thing. Some of the birds were sleeping, some were slowly feeding and a lot of them were preening and cleaning their feathers. Some of the preening Spoonbills would repeatedly dip their bills into the water and then clean their feathers with the water. For the lead image in this story I knew the water drop would fall to the water. I focused on the bird and watched the water drop slowly form on the end of its bill and I timed the photo right when it hit the water. Again I couldn't believe what opportunities I was getting with these Spoonbills.
The other great thing about the setup was that I was able to get some different backgrounds thanks to the birds slowly moving around. One of my favorite lighting setups for birds is to have nice morning or evening sunlight lighting up the bird with a dark or black background. It is a dramatic setup that really makes the bird stand out and I was getting just that! Another thing that was happening was the water was so calm it was near impossible to see the difference between the background and the reflection which made it look like some of the birds were just floating in space like the photo below.
After about 40 minutes with the Spoonbills the sunlight started dipping behind the trees and they were in shade so I moved out of the area to see what else I could find. I ended up walking towards the exit on the boardwalk and came upon a much larger flock of Spoonbills that were all flying off towards their sleeping spot for the night. The birds were taking off either individually or in small groups and again gave me many opportunities for flight shots. I managed to get one that I really liked of the bright pink bird lit up with the late day sun against a dark background. A perfect ending to yet another incredible day of bird photography in Florida. Next up I have one more outing on the east coast of Florida before heading over to the west coast to stay in Cape Coral with my wife's family.