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Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Florida is a state of great contrasts. On the one hand large areas are covered in gated retirement communities and condos while on the other there are vast uninhabited regions with diverse wildlife.

The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is conveniently located in the heart of one of the most densely populated areas of south-central Florida yet provides an excellent locale for bird photography. Just 30 minutes south of the West Palm Beach airport, and just minutes away from golf courses and shopping malls you will find a wonderful proliferation of wildlife — from a diversity of birds, to Alligators and more.

During Christmas week of 2002 I spent a morning shooting at the reserve for the first time, but since I visit with family in that part of the state regularly I intend on returning often. Arrive early, bring a long lens and enjoy.

Where's Waldo?

We arrived at the reserve shortly after dawn, and about a half hour later saw this remarkable scene of a Black Vulture, a Turkey Vulture and several Anhinga drying their wings in the heat of the early morning sun. It really must be seen either in print or the larger on-screen version to enjoy the wealth of detail visible in this photograph. Looking at this photograph closely reminds me of a page from the children's book, Where's Waldo?

Where's Waldo — Loxahatchee Florida, Dec 2002
Photographed with a Canon EOS 1Ds with 500mm f/4L IS lens at ISO 250

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill and Friend — Loxahatchee Florida, Dec 2002
Photographed with a Canon EOS 1Ds with 500mm f/4L IS lens at ISO 320

This was one of the first shots of the morning, and the one that best captures one of Florida's unique birds, the Roseate Spoonbill. I find the smaller dark foreground bird provides a perfect graphic counterpoint of both form and tone. Have a look at this enlargement to also see a bit of detail that isn't really otherwise visible unless seen in a large print. I used a high shutter speed of 1/1250 sec because I was shooting with the 500mm f/4 lens hand-held and the birds were in constant motion. As you'll see in the enlarged detail this allowed me to catch the water droplets near the bird's mouth in mid-air.

Great Egret

Great Egret — Loxahatchee Florida, Dec 2002
Photographed with a Canon EOS 1Ds with 500mm f/4L IS lens at ISO 320

The world probably doesn't need another photograph of an Egret, but I love the detail in and purity of its white plumes (in the late 19th Century these birds were hunted almost to extinction for its feathers), as well as the contrast with the grasses and reeds behind.

All of the shots on this page were taken with the Canon 500mm f/4L IS hand held. I carried this bulky lens either by its handle or over my shoulder on a strap for about 2 hours as we hiked the reserve. By using a slightly higher ISO than usual (between 250 and 320) I was able to shoot most of the time between 1/500th and 1/1250 second, which produced extremely sharp results. IS certainly helped, but the high shutter speeds were necessary as well because of the constant movement of the birds.

I am becoming increasingly comfortable hand-holding this lens, but frankly only for short periods. After a minute or so my arms become tired, so I'm careful only to bring the lens up for a shot if I think that the chances of a worthwhile frame are good. In any event, it's more fun than a workout at the gym.


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Concepts: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Photography, Canon EOS-1Ds, Canon EOS, Full-frame digital SLR, Bird, Shutter speed, Canon EOS DSLR cameras

Entities: Canon, Alligators, ISO, Christmas, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Michael Reichmann, Waldo, golf, Florida

Tags: high shutter speeds, Roseate Spoonbill, Canon EOS, Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, vast uninhabited regions, larger on-screen version, hand large areas, smaller dark foreground, Palm Beach airport, early morning sun, perfect graphic counterpoint, late 19th century, long lens, bulky lens, densely populated, bird, wildlife, great contrasts, Florida, excellent locale, morning shooting, wonderful proliferation, retirement communities, Black Vulture, south-central florida, bird photography, photograph, constant motion, diverse wildlife, worthwhile frame, Turkey Vulture, shopping malls, unique birds, water droplets, remarkable scene, white plumes, constant movement, higher iso, short periods, best captures