I’ve taken the next couple of days off to expand my Memorial Day weekend and to give myself some much needed mental health time, and decided this morning I would try a new place I read about. I got in my car and headed to Bird Rookery Swamp. Anyone who knows me, knows I enjoy adventures and I really enjoy finding new places to photograph. I’ve been so busy I’ve not had time recently to get out and photograph the natural world.
Entering a new place for the first time, I’m always amazed at what I may see and I was thrilled to be the only person on the path. I thoroughly enjoyed the coolness of the trees and the wonderful breeze on this hot, almost summer day. The first thing I came upon is a Red Shouldered Hawk, he’s watching me almost as intently as I am watching him.
The next unusual thing I came across is a Shelf Fungus on the top of railing on the boardwalk. It was quite beautiful and delicate looking.
Walking further on the path, I came upon something called a Witch’s Broom, it’s about halfway up a Cypress Tree, and is an odd growth of parasites and insects which cause damage on the tree and causes the tree to have a strange growth and it looks like a large nest.
The sounds were incredible, a Piliated Woodpecker pounding on a tree which echoed throughout the swamp. Juvenile Red Shouldered Hawks were a constant source of sound along with various other songbirds.
As I continued to walk I watched a White-Tailed Deer run across the path in front of me and I went searching to see where it had gone, turns out it was a gorgeous six-point buck with a full rack of undisturbed velvet still in place. He too looked right at me.
A couple of young raccoons were looking for their morning breakfast and feasted upon numerous lizards they were chasing, sometimes up into the trees. They were curious of me, but we gave each other a respectful distance.
This place was truly amazing and I will be going back again soon.
One of my life’s greatest achievements are my children. I have two grown boys 31 & 28 and I take delight in what wonderful young men they are. I don’t see my oldest too often, but he holds the place in my heart where I was hurting most. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy I lost my dad and Jimmy came along a week (to the day) later. He kept my mind occupied and I was able to move forward with life. He is my first born and is an incredible athlete and loves the outdoors and strikingly handsome, at the age of 11 a young lady from his school class came to me and said “Mrs. Owen Jimmy is so fine” and I would have to agree he’s is fine in all areas, he’s a great man. Three years and three months later, my life was completely turned upside down once again with the birth of the cutest little blonde blue-eyed guy….Tommy was early and from a really difficult pregnancy and I wasn’t sure if either of us was going to make it. Make it we did and he was so full of vim & vinegar. Always into something and taking life by the horns. We were told when he was little that he would grow up to do great things…..and he has; In his 28 years so far he has been on a PBS Zoom program based on the Everglades and it’s still featured on the teacher’s portion of the PBS website. He’s was sent to an environmental camp for Hispanic kids (he’s NOT Hispanic), and he went back the following year to film it. He’s paddled the entire Mississippi River not once but twice by kayak and canoe, second time alone with his dog. He wrestled a 10 foot Python out of the water, lived to tell about it and is a featured article in the 2105 Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Special Edition and he’s an incredible photographer and guide in the region he grew up in. I spend the most time with him, because he’s closest. It was no different this Mother’s Day. I went down to visit him and his boss surprised him by giving him the entire day off to spend with me. We began the day with a picnic lunch at Turner River Road and then took a short drive down the road to see if anything interesting was out. We continued from there to the Fakahatchee (where he grew up) and walked down a newly forged path and so glad we did. He has a keen eye for wildlife and is always looking at his surroundings for the live and interesting. This time around he spotted something that seemed out of place, it was the entire skeleton carcass of a very large deceased alligator. We surmised it was the remains from the emaciated alligator we had seen a few months prior, one we thought had already died. Even though it was not in the same pond area, we felt it had moved to find deeper water and breathed it’s last in this area. The bones were pretty much intact and some were a little scattered due to scavengers on the body, but the bones were clean and the head and jaws were massive. We had a bit of creative inspiration with the head and I was able to get some great photographs of the alligator and of my extremely photogenic son.
Photo taken by Jack Shealy
Wow this time last year, I was experiencing a bit of turmoil in my life; drama that could have been avoided, but when dealing with the immature that’s what happens. Fast forward one year later. I had a great Thanksgivings spent with my youngest son Tommy and the people of the campground where I was staying and where he works as a guide. Old friends were there and so much good food I was in a food coma for hours after. Of course while there I took out the camera, just didn’t have it at the dinner, nor did I have my phone. I simply wanted to enjoy the meal and fellowship with those I’ve not spent time with in a while. I really enjoy going down to Trail Lakes Camp Ground it borders the Big Cypress and so much wildlife all around makes it extra special! Later in the evening I saw with Tommy by a roaring campfire and we enjoyed the warmth of the flames.
It was quite chilly even for Florida standards. I ended my trip with a drive through the Big Cypress on Birdon Road over to Wagon Wheel Road then back on Turner River Road.
Beautiful sky no cloud and that deep azure blue against the sand colored grasses of the swamp. On my way home I stopped and spent several hours at The Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. No bear this time, but the swamp was still teaming with birds and wildlife. It was a marvelous Thanksgiving and I would not change the way life is turning out.
I want to thank all of my readers and followers for a great year. I was so unsure of myself when I started this blog, but I love the outlet it allows me and I am so glad you have all enjoyed my meanderings. This next year promises to be so much better. Thank you for your support.
As a working photographer with a full time job (other than photography) I am extremely busy. I have to plan my away times well in advance and get away to renew myself every once in a while. This weekend I took another trip south to the Big Cypress and camped in Trail Lakes Camp Ground. Old friends own it and my son lives and works there as well as a native guide. I went out on my own Saturday to Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk which is part of the Fakahatchee Strand and walked the boardwalk mid morning. I was alone for most of my trip and passed a few folks coming off the trail, but heading to the end I was the only one out there……..so quiet and peaceful. I spotted mama gator and snapped a couple of shots. Coming in to the area I looked for the pair of Bald Eagles who have taken residence in the Fakahatchee for well over 20 plus years. I didn’t see any activity on the nest, but as I was sitting taking in the beauty of the ‘gator hole’ I could hear them calling. I decided to head back out and was listening as I was strolling along. Pileated Woodpecker, Blue Grey Gnatcatchers, and various other sounds. I was heading around the bend and I saw another couple heading in my direction, but they had stopped and all I saw was him reach around and snap a photo; not thinking much of this I rounded the bend and came pretty much face to face with a 250lb Florida Black Bear. My heart skipped a beat and I raised my camera up to snap several shots, then reality set in and I realized I had no where to go! He was blocked in with the other couple and be on each side. As the photo I will post shows he was taking steps toward me, I knew not to run and was praying it was not a mama bear with little ones around, because it was focused on me and not the other couple. Eventually he turned and exited under the railing which at that point I took my first real breath in about a minute of encounter. I could hear him rustling about in the water, but never saw him again, the other couple from Germany had basically the same shots I had except he was looking at them, and even with a language barrier we could share our excitement! I’m sure they will never forget their day in the swamp just as I won’t.
Later in the afternoon my son Tommy and I drove out to Fakahatchee to walk one of the trams. I ran into an old friend who passed the information along on the bear encounter and my photo will be in the November issue of the Ghost Writer newsletter put out by the Friends of Fakahatchee. Later in our walk we spotted an alligator that we thought was deceased, he was extremely emaciated and until he took a large breath and moved forward did we realize he was very much alive. Very dangerous at this point, because he was hungry and/or injured. We gave him lots of room, but not before taking a few shots to document his condition for the biologist at Fakahatchee, who happens to be my ex-husband. As we headed out, the rains started and we ended our day of adventure.
Sunday morning I woke up early and head off to Turner River Road. Driving into the Big Cypress I feel all of my burdens slowly lift from my shoulders, and any anxiety that I had has melted away into pure bliss on these quiet back roads of the Big Cypress Swamp. The only activity I see are few alligators and the birds feeding in the early morning light. I was on a quest this morning to find the elusive Purple Gallinule. Unfortunately I didn’t find one, however I was fortunate enough to see a doe and her fawn snacking on the grasses off the side of the road. Over all it was a beautiful trip and I can’t wait to head back out there. For me there is no other place on earth than the beautiful Florida Everglades.
Walking along the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Boardwalk I realize this is where my element is. I shoot concerts and portraits and I’m quite busy at it, but this is where I readjust, realign my thinking, learn how to shoot better and get creative. I arrived early in hopes not to come in contact with too many other humans. I enjoy interaction, but this morning I need quiet. I am going to be extremely busy for the next couple of months and I will be running non stop with events, concerts, band shoots, portraits and weddings. I needed to simply walk and to be quiet. The silence is golden, there is no one else except for me and an occasional woodpecker singing with many other birds and insects. I watch the leaves drift from the trees; fall soon will be here. It’s amazing to just be quiet for a while, to take it in and to learn from nature.
The noise level I experienced with a group of people makes me wonder why they come to a sanctuary like this, where the quiet is what you absorb. If you plan on seeing anything, you need to be quiet and sadly they will leave the sanctuary thinking there is nothing there. My morning was quite productive with many wonderful photos taken; not all wildlife, but the flora which is quite beautiful. However it was the sounds of quiet, the gentle breeze, the buzzing of the bees and the singing of the birds that I took away with me this fine morning.
I get out into the wild as often as I possibly can. I lived in the Swamps of Fakahatchee Strand for 13 years and even though I no longer live there I still love being there and enjoying the outdoors. As a photographer it helps me keep focused and to enhance my creativity.
Today I visited another swamp area called the Babcock Ranch Preserve and took their swamp buggy tour, well worth the trip. This area is a working ranch and contains cattle from the days of the conquistador.
Wildlife abounds in this rich environmental area and they don’t seem to have the surge of exotics that have invaded other areas of South West Florida.
I have passed the genetics of photography to my youngest son, who lives in the heart of the Everglades. They are constantly battling exotics such as the snake he encountered in April of 2013; check out the article from Huffington Post below.
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I have found with my busy lifestyle that if I don’t take time to get out into the ‘green’ my creativity begins to wane. Between the concerts, portraits and weddings I have taken on, I’ve not had a lot of available time to be out in the woods or off in a nature preserve.
This past weekend I had some much-needed time off. I had finished editing the last wedding on my books and was almost finished with the portrait session I had done the week prior, yet I had a couple of projects that still needed my attention. I just couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around what needed to be done with them, so I put them on the back burner to stew around in my mind. I decided on Saturday that I would head to the local park and take in the boardwalk and see what my camera may find. Because I hold a full-time job along with my part-time photography my mind is constantly thinking and working; portraits, concerts and weddings require my brain to constantly be thinking about the next shot I need to take and calculate the lighting and the distance from my lens to the subject, but out in the open air at a park or in the woods, I get to rely more on my instincts and simply aim my camera and shoot. I don’t take a lot of shots because I’m there to relax my mind, but if I do see something I want to remember whether scenery, plants or animals I will snap off a few. The color green is very relaxing and I find I mellow and meld into the environment. I think it makes me a better photographer, because I get a few hours to relax and to renew my mind and thoughts. After spending a couple of days in the woods I came home and was able to dive into the past projects with a new passion, I opened up the project and within a few minutes I had solved the mystery of what I was going to do with the project. The few hours I spent in the heat and in the green were well worth it. I got a few great photos and I feel like a new person. If you are a photographer and you are having a difficult time keeping up your creativity take an hour or two and lose yourself in the woods. You don’t have to go far, a local park, a nature preserve or even a zoo will give you the needed break your brain needs. We can always use a mental break from time to time. So no matter what you job is, take a break, go outside, breathe in the fresh air and relax.
Yellow Rat Snake