Florida Space Coast Birding Adventure 2019

Almost every year, I take a trip to Florida to photograph the amazing birds and local wildlife.  Florida is abundant with birds at most any time of the year.  Winter and spring seem to offer the best opportunity, but you simply can't go wrong there at any time.

There were several differences on this years trip that are worth noting.  First, I tested the Canon EF 600mm F4 L II lens.  Secondly, I tested my new Sony A7 III body, and finally, my brother accompanied me to take advantage of all the wildlife and help build his portfolio.

Day 1 - Blackpoint Wildlife Drive (Late Afternoon Scouting)

For those who follow my photography, they will know that I like Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.  It is a easy 7 mile drive that winds its way through a portion of Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge.  The cost is $10 per day, but I opt to pay for the $29 yearly pass.

The afternoon on day one was cloudy with a fair amount of birds.  The water levels were high this year, causing less birds due to the flats being flooded.  That is just part of the game. You never know how the conditions will be, and even with poor conditions, good photography is possible.  Below are several images taken on our first scouting trip.

A little blue heron perched in the grasses along the marsh edge.
(Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF 600 F4)

Wild boar are starting to become commonplace in much of Florida. They are often thought of as pests because they are not native to Florida. However, they are still wildlife.
(Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600 @ 313mm, MC-11 Converter)

Day 2 - Merritt Island/Blackpoint Wildlife Drive (Morning)
My brother and I departed our hotel early, grabbed some DD coffee and arrived at Merritt Island to be met with more cloudy conditions.
The good thing about cloudy conditions is you can shoot all day. The bad thing is you have low light, so that means higher ISOs and white backgrounds in flight shots.  Below are several images from day two.
A white ibis flying over the marshes
(Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600 @ 468mm)

A Florida alligator mostly submerged
(Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 600mm F4 L II)

A stunningly beautiful example of a little blue heron.  I don't think I have seen one with quite this coloration. My only wish is that I didn't cut off his foot.
(Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF 600 F4 L II)

Day 2 - Helen and Allan Cruickshank Sanctuary (Afternoon)
We decided to head down to Vierra Wetland for the afternoon, but upon arrival, we discovered the roads were closed due to damage from storms.  I was determined not to be defeated by weather, so I made a decision go to the Helen and Allen Cruickshank Sanctuary and check on the scrub jay population.

We walked to the usual location to find the birds, made a couple calls and several came in close and landed on nearby branches.  It is not uncommon for folks to feed the jays, even though it is against the rules in the sanctuary.  Because of that, the jays are very friendly!  They were so friendly on this visit that they landed directly on our heads!  Of course they were waiting for us to feed them, but I always respect the rules at the sanctuary.

My brother, Rick with a jay on his head and on his lens

Florida Scrub Jay
(Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600)

Day 3 - Back to Merritt Island
With all the closings, it was becoming difficult to find birding opportunities, but we pressed on and made the best of a difficult situation.  The good thing about Florida is that even when areas are closed, birds can still be located.

Cattle Egret Eating a Lizard
(Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600)

We worked the morning hours of blackpoint and worked through some dark overcast conditions.  Even with these issues, we were able to take some fairly good images.  Probably the most fun we had, on this day, was following a flock of cattle egrets down Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.  We followed them as they hopped from bush to bush consuming lizards.  For those that don't know, cattle egrets will often follow cars as they stir up dirt.  This causes their prey to run and they can snag them.  We laughed and laughed at these little buggers.

White Ibis Coming in for a Landing
(Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600)

On this day, we were also able to get into some birds in flight action.  The severely overcast conditions made it difficult to get the best shutter speeds, and so I had to really crank the ISO up to get some shots. 
Day 4 - Back to Merritt Island
Day 4 had us scratching our heads on where to go next.  Since the previous day had led to some interesting shots, we decided to go back to Blackpoint.  We arrived and began to immediately shoot.  However, soon, they closed down Blackpoint on us for maintenance, and I was fit to be tied!  I have never seen so many roads and refuges closed at one time.  There seemed to be almost no good reason for it.  I knew exactly what they were trying to do.  They were trying to squeeze money out of the gov't by saying roads were closed due to hurricane damage.  However, in talking to locals, I found out that the roads were actually in good condition.  That is sad!  Before they closed the roads, we did get a couple great images.

Green Heron Perched in the top of a Bush
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 600mm F4)

Eastern Phoebe
(Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 600mm F4 L II)

With another road closed, we decided to make a quick run to Port Canaveral on the off chance we could photograph shorebirds and pelicans.  We arrived there about 1/2 hour later and had to pay stupid money to get in.  Nice park, not many birds in range to photograph.  There was an interesting juvenile reddish egret, ruddy turnstones and a ton of pelicans way out on part of the jetty that no one can get to.  Below are a couple images from Port Canaveral.  I think that next time I will pass on Port Canaveral.

Juvenile Reddish Egret at Port Canaveral
(Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600)

Ruddy Turnstone at Port Canaveral
(Sony A7 III, Sigma 150-600)

After that somewhat disappointing side tour, we headed back to Merritt Island and worked some of the other back roads. I have had little luck with some of the hunting and fishing roads on Merritt Island, but we did manage to find a red-shouldered hawk donning the lighter Florida coloration.
Probably the most interesting find at the end of day 4, was a female raccoon we discovered and were able to photograph.

Mother Raccoon Searching for Food
(Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 600 F4 L II)

Although we did a little more scouting during the week, that was really the last day of shooting.  This year's trip was difficult and frustrating in many ways, but was still astounding!  I don't think I have ever seen as many behavior opportunities and unique species as I did on this trip.  I look forward to what next year will bring us!  I didn't get bit by any fire ants this time, and we even got eyes on a bobcat!

I don't generally recommend micro-stock agencies, but if you are just getting started and want to see how the business works, sign up using this link and I get a little kick back:  https://www.shutterstock.com/g/Matt+Cuda?rid=1927511&utm_medium=email&utm_source=ctrbreferral-link


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Stunning shots, Matt! I especially love the close up Little Blue. Incredible color and detail. Even has a great shallow DOF... that back leg is out of focus drawing you in to the plumage on the neck and face. Great work! William

    1. Thanks, William. Yeah, he was a great specimen of a Little Blue. We had a great time despite everyone working against us LOL.