My projects photographing wildlife in Hawaii and Costa Rica had put me in a strange position…both locations were so incredibly beautiful and had such a diversity of animals that my local haunts had begun to seem a little drab by comparison, or as BB King put it, “The Thrill is Gone” 😊
I had been thinking about Florida for a while now. I have seen photos of so many amazing birds there, and a little research indicated that the first months of the year were ideal in terms of weather and species to be found. I had a list of places to visit and Tampa seemed to be the logical choice for my base of operations. Florida is huge of course, and everything is far away, so a fair amount of road time was inevitable.
My days began early: Up by 5 AM and in the car by 6 to meet the sunrise at each location. That made the first day particularly challenging since my flight arrived at midnight the evening before and there is a 3 hour time difference from West Coast! I have come to believe that the recipe for great wildlife photography is 1 part sleep deprivation, 1 part frozen fingers, and a willingness to be a pack mule hauling equipment over rough terrain.
First stop – Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland. Driving into this place it looks a bit like a scene from an Anne Rice gothic novel…huge trees covered in Spanish Moss, open marsh lands with alligators lurking just below the water’s surface, and a huge variety of birds going about the business of surviving. Some of the scenes I found there were right out of a fairy tale (albeit a dark spooky one). I met the Gray Ghost there (the Northern Harrier hawk) and had an up-close encounter with a 10 foot male alligator who decided to cross the berm separating one side of the marsh to the other. I was hiking down it at the time, and he popped out of the grass no more than 4 feet away as he crossed. Thankfully, he had no interest in me.
Next up – Fort DeSoto Park, St. Petersburg. This amazing place is 1136 acres spread over 5 connected islands, or keys. I hadn’t even gotten to the park entrance when I glimpsed more Ospreys than I had ever seen in one place. It was nesting season, and I counted more than 30 males swooping into the bare trees to snap off branches for building materials. Besides enormous branches, the mighty Osprey can carry a fish bigger than its own body and I saw it firsthand!
My final location was Myakka River State Park in Sarasota. This is one of the oldest and largest parks in Florida (37000 acres!) and home to scores of deer, alligators, and a huge variety of bird species. It also has a large population of feral pigs, and I got to meet a large boar while hiking through the forest. I kept a respectful distance and we just admired each other from afar.
It was a fantastic trip, and yet another place I will definitely return to.