The Great Florida Birding Trail is a statewide program that winds 2,000 miles along Florida’s highway system and that connects almost 500 birding sites. The sites are all accessible from the highways and are sometimes in very remote areas, so remote that I’d advise that a lone female might not want to venture them alone.
Closer in, Gainesville has the excellent Palm Point Park birding site that juts out into Newnan’s Lake. Palm Point isn’t much of a park; there’s a short trail out to the water that ends in a clearing with a bench. It’s a popular area for fishing (catfish) as well as for birding.
Any time I’ve visited, the skies and trees have been full of vultures. Perhaps someone more familiar with birds can tell me why, for instance, Newnan’s Lake is so popular with these scavenger birds and yet Lake Lochloosa is not. I thought it had to do with people fishing, but I just spent an afternoon around Orange Lake and Lake Lochloosa and I saw none of them.
We went to Palm Point over the weekend with the idea that we might photograph some birds, a subject in which neither Mr. B. nor I has any experience. We had some idea that it might be analogous to shooting skeet, and it turned out that this was not far off the mark.
Over two days, we spent a few hours sitting or standing along the shoreline of Newnan’s Lake, a gorgeous body of water on whose banks have been found Indian dugout canoe artifacts that may be as many as 5,000 years old. The lake’s glassine water belies that fact that it is home–as potentially is any body of water in Florida–to alligators. Most anywhere else, Newnan’s would be an excellent swimming lake.
It is also home to cottonmouths, something well known to the local fishermen. One young father warned two tots to stay close, because they “didn’t want to get bit none.” For my own part, I carefully watched where I stepped as I approached the water’s edge, mindful of cottonmouth-friendly vegetation along the banks.
Mr. B., ever more game for adventure, sat on a waterside log and balanced on a few stones that led out into the water.
We immediately noticed a blue heron posed on a clump of vegetation thirty or so feet out into the water. Over the course of two days, we would come to see that this bird “owns” this spot; it chased other birds off and its presence deterred other birds that swooped in for a look. A lot of our time was spent watching this bird for signals that it might fly.
Also at the lake were ibis. These stood on a dead tree that jutted off the bank. I was not able to identify other birds and will admit that this was out of sheer laziness and a latent fear of misidentification.
Through sheer luck, and on the advice of a professional photographer who urged me to up my ISO to 500, I got some acceptable pictures of birds in flight. I realized that I rather liked this sport–shooting, as it were–and will attest to its difficulty. If a bird is nearby and you can watch it, you can have your focus ready to go when it takes flight. If it is streaking across the sky and comes out of nowhere, though, good luck getting your camera to focus on it before it is gone. This was repeatedly frustrating, as was autofocus that did not understand that the moving brown blob was something upon which one wanted to focus. Manual focus was worse; I am all thumbs and could not twist double rings in time to get anything acceptable. Because of these limitations, I consider myself lucky to have gotten the following. In each of these cases, the bird had been standing nearby and I’d been watching it prior to it flying.
Mr. B. and I had so much fun “shooting” birds that we spent the whole weekend doing it. It was the most frustrating and rewarding thing I’ve done in a long time–Asian Festival aside–and I can’t wait to do it again.
Today and tomorrow, it’s all about the birds, except when it’s about the vista and an armadillo.