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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Entries Tagged as 'Florida'

Pine Island and Little Pine Island

February 4th, 2013 · No Comments

Pine Island is “old Florida.” This term denotes the way this rapidly growing state was at least two generations ago. Sharon wisely chose to base our month-long stay away from the high rises and hustle and bustle of the cities.

At a length of 17 miles and a width of two miles, Pine Island is the largest island in Florida. It is a barrier island off the coast from the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers. With a population of just 9,000 people and not a single stoplight, Pine Island is a laid back place that we thoroughly explored and enjoyed.

With a whole month to discover the natural treasures of Southwest Florida, our strategy was to start by exploring the island and generally go farther and farther. Our main guide was the South Section of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. This wonderful resource catalogs the best sites to find Florida’s birds. Pine Island itself actually doesn’t have any Great Florida Birding sites, but it still has lots of great birds.

Our exploration of Pine Island got off to a great start on our first full day there. Driving the main road through the island, we saw a raptor that I had never seen before, a Red-shouldered Hawk. Later we saw several more and appreciated that they are about as common in Florida as Red-tailed Hawks are in Colorado, but my first view of it was an exciting discovery for me.

A Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) Takes Off

A Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) Takes Off

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Pine Island’s Blue Crab Key

February 4th, 2013 · 7 Comments

My friend Sharon rented a two-bedroom condo on Southwest Florida’s Pine Island for the month of January and invited me to share it with her. Of course, I accepted.

The weather there was rather better than in Boulder, Colorado, where each of us live. While the temperature reached 84° on Pine Island when we were there, Boulder’s temperature dropped to sub-zero for three days, going as low as -6 degrees on January 15. By comparison, the worst cold snap that we experienced in Florida came on January 18, when the temperature only reached 66°.

January was also a dry month in Southwest Florida, while Boulder got several inches of snow. Rain stopped us from getting out only on the morning of January 7 and until late morning on the 31st. The birding and photography were so good that we logged more than 386,000 steps, the equivalent of 123 miles, according to my new pedometer. We chose a good place and time for an active vacation.

The condo that we rented is on Blue Crab Key, 25 landscaped acres surrounded by water on all sides and connected to the rest of Pine Island only by a short causeway. It is a townhouse condominium development with 120 two-story units in 20 buildings.

The Front of Our Condo, the Second Unit from the Left

The Front of Our Condo, the Second Unit from the Left

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Posted in: Florida

Wakodahatchee Wetlands

February 28th, 2011 · No Comments

We returned on February 24 to the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida for the last day of Russ Burden’s natural photo tour of the birds of Florida. Our final destination was the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, 23 miles South of West Palm Beach. There Palm Beach County has transformed 50 acres unused utility land into a recreation wetlands open to the public with a three-quarter mile boardwalk that crosses between open water pond areas, marsh areas, and islands with shrubs and snags to foster nesting and roosting. We saw it all.

The first scene that captured my attention was of a dule of three Turtles sunning on a snag. That was good enough for me to intend to capture their image. But then an Anhinga sunned itself on top of the snag, completing the scene.

One Anhinga and Three Turtles

One Anhinga and Three Turtles

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We saw lots more:

A Brace of Mottled Ducks

A Brace of Mottled Ducks

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Posted in: Florida, Photography

Ding Darling Refuge

February 28th, 2011 · No Comments

The Roseate Spoonbills at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the subtropical barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico are one of the most beautiful bird species I have ever seen. Their incredible rosy color has a tremendous attraction for me.

When the nature photo tour I took arrived at Ding Darling, the fog was heavy and we despaired of good photos of the Spoonies. As soon as the gate opened at 7 a.m. we slowly drove the 4-mile one-way road through the refuge looking carefully through the fog and occasionally spotting the pink Spoonies in the distance. Russ Burden, our tour leader, told us not to expect anything better as they usually went to sleep in the bushes after 9 or 10 a.m., but we nevertheless made one more pass through the refuge.

One Spoonbill in the Distance with Friends at 8:50 a.m.

One Spoonbill in the Distance with Friends at 8:50 a.m.

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But the fog began to lift about 9 a.m., and by 10 a.m. several of them were feeding close by us on the lagoon. They feed in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging their bills from side to side as they steadily walk through the water.

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Posted in: Florida, Photography

Little Estero

February 28th, 2011 · 4 Comments

Russ Burden, who led the nature photo tour of birds of Florida, told me that the main reason why we drove across the state to the Fort Myers area was to experience birds at Little Estero. The term “ester” means a marshy estuary or inlet. That’s exactly what the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area is. It’s located on a Gulf of Mexico beach at the southern tip of Estero Island, just offshore from Fort Myers.

To get there and back each time we had to wade through ankle-deep water. Fortunately, we found crossings that weren’t slippery, and the water wasn’t cold. But we had wet feet all the time we were there. Since I didn’t want to use my regular shoes, we had stopped at a Wal-Mart, where I found a pair of perfectly adequate shoes for about $12.

Most of our photography came as we stood at the south end of the largest lagoon and waited for the birds of many species to fly toward us. They did and in large numbers. “Incoming!” was a common shout for us to be prepared.

This is the best place to capture birds in flight! For example:

A Snowy Egret Lands at Daybreak

A Snowy Egret Lands at Daybreak

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A Great Egret Flies by at Daybreak

A Great Egret Flies by at Daybreak

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Posted in: Florida, Photography

Sanibel Island

February 27th, 2011 · No Comments

Since I have a vicious personality, I have a special affinity for birds of prey. So even though I had concentrated on photographing an Osprey nest near Key Largo on February 19, I was focusing again on Ospreys just three days later when Russ Burden’s nature photo tour of birds of Florida got to Sanibel Island. We had driven clear across the state from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf Coast. Our first destination there was Sanibel Island, a barrier island just offshore from Fort Myers.

First, I shot this Osprey flying overhead:

An Osprey Glides

An Osprey Glides

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Then, it or one of its relatives or its mate landed:

Landed on a Stump

Landed on a Stump

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Posted in: Florida, Photography

Osprey Nest

February 27th, 2011 · No Comments

The birdlife in the Everglades continually amazed me. Not just the great number and variety of birds, but especially because many of them are so used to people and trusting of us that they allow us to get quite close, in some cases within 10 feet. In these conditions anyone can get some great pictures whether or not they are carrying heavy zoom lenses and tripods.

We did need that equipment, however, for the photo shoot at our second location. Right at the edge of Everglades National Park is a fully inhabited osprey nest — one that contains an osprey chick. The nest is certainly far enough from the vantage point to require the equipment that we carried.

But its great advantage is that it is at eye level from that vantage point, an on-ramp to a bridge between the Everglades and Key Largo. Cheryl, another participant in Russ Burden’s nature photo tour with me and two others, has a home in Marathon in the middle of the Keys. She had discovered the nest and told us about it. Russ flexibly changed the schedule to take advantage of this rare opportunity.

The five of us set up our equipment at the edge of the on-ramp. Fortunately, almost no traffic passed us.

Waiting for the best possible shot of an osprey with a chick was a far different scene from shooting along the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park. We stayed in one place from 4 p.m. to when the last sun hit the nest at precisely 6 p.m. In those two hours I took hundreds of photos at that one location.

The wait rewarded our patience. Just a quarter hour before sunset I got my favorite shot of the afternoon with the glow of last light illuminating the two ospreys intensely watching possible prey.

Osprey Parent and Chick Near Sunset

Osprey Parent and Chick Near Sunset

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Then, for the actual sunset we packed up and drove to Key Largo, where we stood with the crowd that applauded as the sun went down, and I shot this scene.

A Skipper and His Dog Watch the Sunset

A Skipper and His Dog Watch the Sunset

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Right there was my favorite restaurant of the entire trip to Florida. Gilbert’s Resort has a large outdoor restaurant where we feasted on fresh fish just 10 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. Live music and a magic act completed our magical day.

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Posted in: Florida, Photography

The Everglades: Anhinga Trail

February 26th, 2011 · 1 Comment

Midway through my February visit to Florida I connected with Russ Burden’s nature photo tour of “Birds of Florida” that I had signed up for the day that he announced it last year, October 12. As soon as I learned about the opportunity I knew that it was a natural for me.

I had met Russ when he spoke to the Colorado Nature Camera Club in November 2009. His presentation, style, and knowledge impressed me so much that I immediately got Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography by Jenni Bidner and photos by Russ. In that book his photos superbly illustrate how to handle all the challenges of photographing both nature and people.

Russ is both a professional photographer and a natural-born teacher. In fact he taught school in New York for 27 years before coming to Colorado about 20 years ago to work full time at his photography passion.

On his tour I took full advantage of his technical advice on composition, lighting, depth of field, and much more by asking many questions. Russ always replied with a depth of knowledge and a generous spirit.

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Posted in: Florida, Photography

Biscayne National Park

February 19th, 2011 · 1 Comment

My wonderful vacation in Key West ended on Thursday. My outstanding travel agent, Kina Palmer, had set it up for me, including reserving my room in the charming 10-room Caribbean House where I stayed in old town Key West.

En route back to Miami I stopped at the Botanical Garden to learn the identity of the bird that I had called a Common Moorhen in an earlier post. My friend Sharon wrote me that she doubted it. Sharon was right; the bird was a Muscovy Duck, which is quite uncommon to the United States.

This stop at the Botanical Garden was the third one for me. I shot this turtle this time:

A Turtle at the Botanical Garden

A Turtle at the Botanical Garden

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A White Ibis at the Garden's Pond

A White Ibis at the Garden's Pond

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The other stop that I had to make was Biscayne National Park. While 95 percent of this park is under water, I had to see the five percent on land, because one of my specialities is visiting our national parks. Florida has three, and on this trip I will be seeing all three of them for the first time.
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Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens

February 17th, 2011 · No Comments

The first time I went to the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Gardens a couple of days ago was just at closing time. So I went back today. That was a really good thing.

I saw many more birds and wildlife today. Everything from the common to the unusual.

The most common bird in the world is the domesticated chicken. Here they are feral, and you see them everywhere in Key West from the streets to the Botanical Gardens:

A Rooster in the Botanical Gardens

A Rooster in the Botanical Gardens

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Rather more exotic is the unusual looking Muscovy Duck, a tropical bird that is seldom seen north of Mexico. I found this one in a pond at the Botanical Gardens:

A Common Moorhen

A Muscovy Duck

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Even more exotic is this heron. Although it is almost pure white, it is a Great Blue Heron.

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Posted in: Florida, Photography