Southern Photography-More Travels with a Camera in Florida, Georgia & South Carolina

October/November 2007

Some Background Information

As the calendar rolled into October I knew Iíd be heading back to Savannah, Georgia for work related tasks. Upon considering this further, I determined to drive down and stay in the area for an extended period in lieu of traveling back and forth from Maine over several months. My colleagues and I rented an apartment on a short-term lease and furnished it, albeit sparsely, through the beginning of 2008.

Just before I left Maine Iíd ordered one of the new Canon EOS 1D Mark III cameras. Unfortunately, I had only a weekend to decide to keep or return the camera. In the end result, I returned it as I was concerned with focus issues as this problem was directly realted to what's required in the realm of bird photography. If I determined the camera experienced this problem, some bodies did, others didnít apparently, I still would have had the Canon warranty but thought it was just too expensive a purchase to take the risk. My weekend with the camera indicated some surprising resultsÖ The bird wing images I took were quite good in my estimation Ė supposedly the cameraís weak point. However, some of the more or less static shots with the 1D Mark III on my 500mm lens tripod mounted did not meet my expectations. Ken Schmidt, a friend, fellow astronomer and bird imager, had owned and returned two of these bodies. Using the information gleaned from he and others helped guide my decision. I retained the test shots and intend as time permits, to write an article about my findings.

I still wished to purchase another camera. I was pleased to learn that a new order of Canon EOS 40d bodies had been delivered to the marketplace and I was able to obtain one in time for my trip south. Whatever time I found to take the field in the coming weeks would allow an opportunity to test this camera.

Canon EOS 40D Cutaway

Cloudy Sunrise from Fort DeSoto Park

Fort DeSoto Park Location Map Iíd been made aware through a ĎBirds as Art Bulletiní from Arte Morris about a DeSoto Weekend Workshop pursuant to bird/nature photography to be held in North Tampa, Florida and Fort DeSoto Park, October 20th-21st. This was a workshop with James Shadle a terrific nature photographer. Sensing an opportunity to learn something and to take the field with some other photographers, I made some inquiries and ended up signing up for the event. I planned my arrival in Georgia accordingly and after a few days at work getting up to speed, planned to drive into the Tampa area to do some imaging.

I contacted, Ken Schmidt, who lives in the Orlando area to let him know Iíd be in state. His schedule precluded attending the seminar but he said he had time to meet so we could image together in Fort DeSoto Park. This worked out great and the morning before the seminar commenced, Ken and I hooked up. Iím glad we did as this was the most productive of the hours I spent in the area.

If youíre interested in viewing a great collection of photographs I urge you to investigate Kenís Gallery. Heís an interesting fellow and it shows...

Saturday October 20th - Fort DeSoto Park

Ken and I met in the parking area by the Ranger Station in the dark. Sunrise wasnít all that early this far south and it was before the daylight savings time change. It was great to see him as it had been awhileÖ Weíd crossed paths often over the years while set up to do astrophotography sessions and became friends with our common endeavors. He is an able bird imager and we had much to discuss about this pursuit and friends we shared while waiting for the sun to rise. Another plus was Ken had imaged regularly in this park. He indicated many photographers and birders view this area as one of Floridaís premier spots and expected it may get crowded except for the fact it didnít appear to be a nice day in the making. He was correct about the weather, it had been raining leading up to the weekend and although we didnít have this to contend with, it remained overcast all day.

Short-billed Dowitchers, imaged with the Canon EOS 40D handheld 1/800 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f5.6.
Short-billed Dowitchers

Ken asked how well I had the various plovers covered in my archive of images as some could be seen around. Iím always looking to add new, better images of birds Iíve photographed and itís always wonderful to add new species to my Bird Images Index. We drove to the beach to see what we could find along the shore. Although it was early enough that light was problematic on this overcast morning, I booted up the ISO on the cameras and started to take photographs. Included in this session were three plovers new to my index inlcuding the Black-bellied Plover, Piping Plover & Wilson's Plover. Examples of these can be viewed below.

Black-bellied Plover Black-bellied Plover

Semipalmated & Piping Plover

Wilson's Plover Wilson's Plover

Piping Plover Semipalmated Plover

Royal Terns Ken and I drove our vehicles back to the main parking lot to walk into the beach. We could see a major flock of birds and even from a distance could see Black Skimmers, Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns and a plethora of gulls. Some of the beach remained cordoned off due to the plover nesting season although it appeared late in the year for this. We kept our distance just in case and still found many subjects worth investigating. I could see this would be an interesting morning.

Flight of Royal Terns with some Sandwich Terns mixed in. imaged with the Canon EOS 40D handheld 1/400 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f/7.

Birds flocked along the beach

Every now and then the flock would get spooked and fly around the circuit landing pretty much in the same spot theyíd just exited. They all appeared quite social seeing how the group was a diverse mix of species. This behavior can often make you wonder as at times all the birds in the area will fly indicating a perceived threat, at other times half or just a small group will take flight while the balance act like everything is fine.

We talked with a fairly large group of birders out with some local Audubon experts. At first we thought it would be best to avoid these folks rather than disturb their observing but as we neared it became apparent they were quite interested in speaking with us. Some were particularly intrigued with our camera gear and asked about equipment choices, our evaluation of lenses and camera brands. It was an interesting time and we found some of these people to be exceedingly knowledgeable. Although in some cases quite distant, they pointed out some species I wasnít readily familiar with. We had a good discussion with some nice folks.

Black Skimmers and terns is flight. Imaged with the Canon EOS 40D handheld, 1/1250 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f/5.6.
Black Skimmers & Terns in Flight

A Few More from Saturday

Tricolored Heron Sanderling

Ruddy Turnstone

Great Egret Little Blue Heron in Flight

Marbled Godwit Marbled Godwit

Marbled Godwit

Loggerhead Shrike Red Knot

Red Knots

Little Blue Heron in flight This was my first time shooting with the 40D and although I hadnít inspected any images except on the cameraís LCD screen I was impressed with it. The menus were reasonably the same as the 30D but with some improvements. I felt comfortable with the camera in short order. While researching the camera Iíd read the autofocus for flight images had been improved and did take a few wing shots although in most cases the day wouldnít have been deemed suitable with the weather conditions we had. However, I was in Florida, it was warm and I was out so made the best of it, plus I still had tomorrow in this area. Once I downloaded and investigated the files on my laptop I thought this camera would work out just fineÖ

Little Blue Heron in flight taken with the Canon EOS 40D handheld, 1/1250 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f/5.6.

The James Shadle classroom portion of the weekend was this evening and I wished to get back to the hotel for a time before I had to travel to North Tampa Photography, the camera store where everyone was meeting. When I did arrive the place was packed both in the parking lot and seating area for the talk - James managed a great turnout and the store was open for those of us in the group if anyone wished to make a purchase. They had the battery grip in stock for the 40D and I purchased one as I already had spare batteries available. Part of the four-hour session was equipment related and many items for field use were discussed. The morning plan was to meet near daylight at the same spot Iíd met Ken this morning. I was good with this as I knew where to go and looked forward to the session. It turned out the field day was well attended but I believe more people attended the lecture portion than took the field.

Ruddy Turnstone taken with the Canon EOS 40D handheld, 1/400 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f/8.
Ruddy Turnstone

Sunday October 21st - Fort DeSoto Park

Sunrise from Fort DeSoto Park

Twilight at Fort DeSoto Park Iíd had several early mornings and last night was fairly late by the time I drove back to the hotel from North Tampa, but I was up early and ready to go. The park was about a half-hour drive and like yesterday this was done in darkness. James, ably aided by his son, also an excellent nature photographer, provided several options of things to do for the group as the sun rose. I elected to go to the beach with many others to image the sunrise and hopefully obtain some backlit bird images in the early light. I was hoping this morning would find better sky conditions than yesterday. It was better but far from pristine with cloud cover on the horizon.

James did a good job briefing everyone and he made the rounds answering questions and offering advice. It was barely dawn and I had no idea what level photographically some of the others in the group may have achieved as I looked around. For me this was like many other early mornings out with the cameras but with a lot more people around. Iíd carried the 500mm lens on the Wimberley Sidekick & tripod out but once in the field changed to a 70-200 f/2.8L IS lens due to the lighting conditions and with few birds around. We were going to shoot seascapes as the sky conditions precluded bird imaging against the rising sun pretty much Ė we werenít actually going to see the disk of the sun rising unless we experienced a break in the cloud coverÖ

Imaged with the Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod.
Sun glow on the ocean

Scudding clouds The day in the field consisted of a morning and afternoon session. You could attend one or both and the fee was structured accordingly. Iíd signed up for both sessions but ended up leaving during the long break between the two (this was nearly four-hours, which I hadnít realized) as I had to be in Savannah in the morning with multiple hours on the road before returning to the apartment. I was disdainful about leaving but the session went until sunset and I didnít wish to roll in after midnight for yet another early rising.

I donít know how many people attended this field event but Iíd estimate around forty between what ended up being two sub-groups. One group was for folks that didnít have issue with getting down low on the ground, possible getting wet and nasty. These were provided with skids that would slide along the sand with the cameras mounted so you could lie down. This is actually a good technique because nobody views subjects from this angle and it can aid composition. I like to shoot from a low position at times but didnít have enough clothes with me to wish to crawl around and get wet so compromised with lowering my tripod when so inclined. Most of the people in the group I was with had tripods so remained upright most of the time. As I always carry a camera handheld itís a simple matter to plant the tripod to free my hands so I can kneel, sit or lay prone should I choose. I was utilizing my usual systems for this session, the Canon 5D with the 500mm f/4L IS lens extended to 700mm on a tripod and the 40D with the 400 f/5.6L lens on a strap easily accessible for flight shots or anything elese that caught my eye. The only difference was I used the 40D now in lieu of the 30D camera. I utilized the 40D often as I wished to evaulate the images and was testing how it performed.

White Ibis taken with the Canon EOS 40D handheld, 1/640 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f/5.6.
White Ibis

Snowy Egret We didnít travel far at all and remained far less mobile than Ken and I did yesterday. James was trying to get people to concentrate on several waders nearby as he explained about bird behavior to seek action shots. He was absolutely right about this but it can be a bit redundant. The end result was I had many shots that were repetitive. What was worse, the Audubon group or some other camped out near the large flock we investigated yesterday and because we had so many in our group, James was reluctant to head that way so we didnít disturb them. The Audubon group remained in this spot for several hours and thusly we stayed in the same general area we occupied for the entire morning, never approaching the largest group of birds to be seen...

Snowy Egret imaged with the Canon EOS 5D camera on tripod, 1/160 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8.

The sun broke the cloud cover and it became warm and sunny. Probably not Ďwarm & sunnyí by Florida standards Iím certain, but for me it was getting downright hot. There was a Reddish Egret foraging in a body of water near us and James had our group jockeying for position to photograph this bird while fishing. I spent far longer than I ever would have with this task usually, but I got some decent images of this bird. I donít recall how many exposures I took of this wader but it was significant. Iím displaying several of my favorite photographs of this egret here for review as the bird went through the Ďfishing danceí they utilize. This series of shots were all done using the 40D handheld at 400mm & ISO 400.

Reddish Egret watching and waiting... Canon EOS 40D handheld, 1/800 second, ISO 400, 400mm at f/7.
Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

Willet As I close this portion of 'Southern Photography' for the balance of time I spent at Fort DeSoto Park Iíll add a few more images from the morning. I wish to thank James Shadle and North Tampa Photography for arranging the workshop - it was great! I also thank my compatriot Ken Schmidt for making the drive to meet me. I'd enjoyed it...

A Willet composite; photographs from along the water's edge as the birds foraged.

Laughing Gull Bird fly-bys taken with the Canon EOS 40D Tricolored Heron

Snowy Egret on the prowl

Great Blue Heron in flight

A Morning at Skidaway Island

I had to be in the area of Savannah near Skidaway Island one morning and figured Iíd get up extra early to check out a few of my usual haunts on the island before work. I was up and on the road before sunrise so I could be at Priest Landing as the sun arose. You never know what you may find around the water and I hadnít visited here since my last trip to Savannah.

I checked out three parts of Skidaway Island besides looking for whatever one may find near the road as you drive in. The first as mentioned was Priest Landing; next I drove nearby to the State Park as I wanted to see how active this environment may be this time of year. Lastly, I had to go into The Landings, a gated community where my friend Bill lives and drove around a few spots to see what may be occurring.

Great Blue Heron As I walked the path along the lagoon near the ocean at the landing I could see there was much less activity than in the summer months. There appeared to be more smaller birds flitting about as opposed to waders and I tried to take some shots along the trail. Most of these didnít turn out well as it wasnít light enough to support this effort, even with the flash.

As the sun started to break the horizon I got off the trail and walked down the road where several birds perched on the logs were being illuminated. Included with this group were several Great Blue Herons and some Wood Storks farther off in the distance. Great Blue Herons must be one of the most wide ranging and prolific of all the waders. I donít think Iíve traveled anywhere along the East Coast from Maine to Florida where these birds werenít present whether near salt/brackish water or inland on freshwater ponds and lakes. I certainly donít mind this as I enjoy viewing them, but from a birders prospective their like seeing an American Robin or similar common species.

Great Blue Heron in morning light. Canon 5D tripod mounted 1/1250 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron Black-bellied Plover

Near the road I viewed this heron at right. As we looked each other over I thought to myself that this bird looked like an old warrior whoíd been around the block a few times. I took a few exposures as I carefully approached. The bird checked me out and didnít appear too spooked unless I walked directly towards him. I got close enough for a few head shots before the heron tired of my presence and flew down the road a bit to perch again in peace.

Great Blue Heron. Canon 5D tripod mounted 1/200 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8.
Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron Up Close

I left the landing and drove over to Skidaway Island State Park. I pulled out my binoculars and took a walk to reconnoiter leaving the tripod system behind this time. I walked to the feeders behind the administration building and didnít view much activity. I saw a few Northern Cardinals, a Tufted Titmouse or two and the usual Carolina Chickadees. Checking the time, I figured Iíd go do what I had to do in The Landings...

Great Blue Heron After meeting my friend I drove around a bit to see what may be going on with the local birds. I knew from previous visits this was a great place in the winter with a significant bird population. Many birds that are not so common where I reside can be found perched in the trees along the lagoons at sunrise and Iíd taken many images from this area. My cursory investigation didnít yield much compared to other times but I did see something that caught my eye. A Lone Green Heron was on the bank at one of the ponds fishing. I decided to check this out a bit closer so parked and got the cameras out.

I ended up spending several hours with this heron. I lowered my tripod and revised the legs so I could sit on the sloping bank. Over the time I was present the bird worked his/her way around the pond to a position very close to where I was set up. In fact at the end of our time together the heron was so close that I could no longer focus without making a correction that I knew would spook the bird and end the session.

Canon 5D tripod mounted 1/200 second, ISO 400, 700mm at f/8 with flash extender.

These birds arenít really uncommon from my experience, but they are always solitary and secretive in nature. Iím constantly pleased when I view one hunkered down along the water as they hunt and they are one of my favorite herons. This was the longest period Iíd spent around one and I'm going to exhibit a group of shots taken over several hours of this Green Heron. These shots are in order as the bird worked around the water to my location...

Green Heron

Green Heron Green Heron

Green Heron in stealth mode Green Heron in stealth mode

In completing this section from Skidaway Island Iím posting my favorite photograph of my friend the Green Heron... This was the birdís closet approach, just within focus for my lens at 700 millimeters, so a bit under twenty-feet. In this image the heron is standing on a concrete outlet pipe as can be viewed we are about at the same eye level. The detail in the master file of this image is outstanding and I know for certain Iíll have a copy of this framed or ArtiPlaqô mounted for my home or office.

Canon 5D tripod mounted 1/100 second, ISO 640, 700mm at f/5.6 with flash extender.
Green Heron

The image below is the only other subject I photographed at this stop - a Garter Snake.
Canon 40D handheld; 1/125 second, ISO 400 at f/5.6. This was taken with my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens at 195mm.

Garter Snake


Link to Page Two

December 2007

A note about the photography...All images in this account are by the author. Any images viewed that are digitally framed and labeled have been added to my collection of works for sale. These are displayed when at shows and events either packaged on foam core, professionally framed or ArtiPlaqô mounted as a final for purchase. The web versions are nice, but a full resolution print significantly enhances the beauty of these images; all are ©2007 Photography by Kirk M. Rogers - any reproduction, publication or transmission of this content without the written consent of the author is prohibited. Please contact me should you have an interest in obtaining any of the images.

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