January 20 ~ Viera, FL
I mostly shy away from nature locations that are known for viewing from a car. It's not my favorite type of wildlife photography since I don't quite feel like I'm surrounded by nature while poking my lens out of a car window. There are a few locations I have been to that I will visit regardless because they tend to be that good. Viera Wetlands is one of those spots. Almost every photo that I've shared in this story was taken while I was out of the car but occasionally the car helped me approach close to my subject. Cars can be worthwhile wildlife blinds!
I arrived at Viera Wetlands around 7:00am just a bit before sunrise. As soon as I was on the wildlife drive I came upon a trio of Great Blue Herons. There was a pair on the top of one Palm Tree and a another bird perched on its own tree. I sat in the car watching the pair perform some courtship behavior, waving their heads around and touching beaks, the sun had not risen yet so photos were not possible. Even with settings over 10,000 ISO there wasn't enough light to stop the motion. I decided to do a bit of video since there was enough light for that, plus it was a better way to capture the interactions. After a bit the herons flew their separate ways and one of them landed right along the road not too far ahead of me. I drove up near the heron and hopped out of the car. Just moments after sunrise I captured some very close portraits of the Great Blue Heron which looked beautiful with its striking breeding colors. After the heron moved, I tried my luck at a back-lit photo which I was also very happy with.
Unfortunately just after sunrise a cloud bank moved in to hide the sun and it would be a couple of hours before I would see some sun again. The wetlands were filled with Yellow-rumped Warblers bouncing all around so at one point I took a few moments to photograph some of them. They wouldn't come too close to me but I found some pretty scenes while they searched for insects in the marsh grasses. White Ibis were rather numerous as well so I got out of the car to grab some photos of them as well.
After some time with the Ibis I drove around the wildlife drive a bit more and came upon a group of Pied-billed Grebes and some Common Gallinules. I've wanted to get decent photos of these Grebes for a long time. I've seen and photographed them countless times but never got them very close. I parked the car, slid out of my driver's seat onto the ground, then slowly worked my way down the embankment, thankfully they stayed put!
At first the Gallinules were in closer and feeding on the shallow vegetation but it didn't take long for the Grebes to move in close as well. I was able to photograph some interactions between the always vocal Common Gallinule and a Pied-billed Grebe which was fun. As I was photographing the birds I started to notice a slight touch of sunlight shining on them, finally the clouds were clearing out and I was starting to get some beautiful light filtering through. A pair of Pied-billed Grebes even began to preen in front of me which always makes for unique and fun poses. I laid along the shoreline for about 30 minutes then the birds finally moved to another area. I had finally captured the decent photos of a Pied-billed Grebe that I had wanted for years.
I got back in my car and slowly drove along the wildlife drive a bit more. It was a busy morning at Viera Wetlands as far as visitors go. There were a lot of individuals and a good number of groups of photographers as well. Thankfully I was ahead of the bus load of birders and photographers that showed up around 9am, that many people can sometimes prevent wildlife from a close approach. Everyone was enjoying the beautiful weather and abundance of birds.
I had driven no more than 500 feet down the road before I came upon another pair of Grebes fishing really close to the shoreline. I stopped the car, turned it off, waited until the Grebes dove underwater and quickly exited the car and moved towards the shoreline. This is one of my favorite games to play with any diving bird. I wait until they dive under and move closer as quick as possible with the goal of stopping just before they surface. If I stop in time and stay motionless, they won't notice me and the bird will dive again allowing me to repeat the process. It works great until I misjudge when they will surface and they come up while I'm practically running at them which, as you can guess, causes the bird to quickly vacate the area. Thankfully my timing was right on this particular morning and I got the two close up photos you see below.
After my encounter with the Grebes above I noticed the light was getting a bit harsh and I decided to call it a day. As I was exiting Viera Wetlands I remembered my father telling me about another spot right across the street known as the Click Ponds. I had never even seen this area so I decided to drive around the ponds, not expecting to get any good photos but just to explore the area.
I had just turned onto the road surrounding the ponds when I saw what appeared to be a small fish levitating above the surface of the water, immediately I knew an Anhinga had a catch. I quickly stopped the car and ran to the shoreline with my camera. Anhingas are nicknamed snake birds because of their habit of swimming with just their long neck out of the water and they tend to spear larger fish with their pointy bill. This bird had speared a fish to large to swallow while swimming so it was headed to land with the fish held high in the air. It was quite amusing to watch and not the first time I had witnessed this behavior but it was the first time I was ready to photograph it. The Anhinga never came close to me and the photo below is one of the best that I got but I thought it really showed off the unique behavior of this Florida native.
As I finished up my drive around the Click Ponds I came upon a small group of warblers including Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers who were kind enough to stay close to the road for a few quick photos. I packed up the camera and lens in the car and started the drive home. I had just wrapped up a wonderful morning of bird photography, I did not realize at that point the day wasn't over for me yet.
I chose a route from Viera Wetlands back to Sebastian that went on Rt. 1 which follows along the Indian River (Intracoastal Waterway). As I was driving along I remembered someone mentioning there was a large congregation of Lesser Scaup ducks in the Indian River at a park in Grant-Valkaria. As I was driving along I noticed a park called Fisherman's Landing Park, made a u-turn and pulled into the park. It was right on the water and before I even exited the car I could see a lot of ducks in the water, hopefully they would be the Scaup I was looking for. There were some clouds in the sky again that were cutting down on the harsh sun so I got the camera out and walked to the shoreline.
Hundreds of Lesser Scaup were in the water but as is common with most waterfowl it was not easy to get close to them. As I approached all of the ducks swam further out into the river which was too far away for a good photo. I looked north and noticed a small flock of them sitting on the sand along the shore, it looked worth trying for. As I approached the resting ducks I saw my favorite heron fishing in the shallows, a Tri-colored Heron. It didn't seem aware that I was crawling towards it so I slowly inched my way closer and before long I was filling the frame with this beautiful heron as it stalked through the shallow water. The heron slowly walked away and I turned my attention to the Scaup on the beach.
This day was another great example of the pleasant surprises that can be found if you take the time to look for them. My original plan was to visit Viera Wetlands for only a couple of hours. After almost 5 hours of photography I had visited two additional locations and saw many birds I was not expecting to when I started the day. Another successful day of wildlife photography in Florida. In the next part of this series I'll be visiting a small city park, taking a boat ride in the Indian River and photographing a full moon as it rises over the River.