Babcock Ranch Eco Tours

I belong to a Meetup.com group for photographers call the SWFL Shutterbugs. I have been a member of this group for quite a number of years and have made some wonderful friends. This past weekend 26 of us gathered and went on an eco tour of Babcock Ranch. It’s not just a historic part of Florida’s history, but it’s still a working ranch with the descendants of the original Spanish Cattle and real working cracker cowboys.

The best thing is the wildlife we saw. Lots of wild hogs and baby pigs (bacon bits!), Wild turkey, Sandhill Cranes and lots of Alligators; lots to photograph!

We were fortunate enough to have our own private tour with a wonderful tour guide. The tour uses old school busses as their swamp buggies. It’s open, and bumpy and just a lot of fun; we filled the bus with our group. I love the wildlife, but my heart danced with joy when the cowboy’s horses came over and graced us with their presence. Our tour was over 90 minutes and was simply wonderful.

After the tour we all had lunch together catered by the ranch. As much as our group loves to take pictures, we love to gather together fellowship with each other and eat just as much.

If you ever make it to South West Florida please visit the Babcock Ranch Eco Tour, it’s worth every penny. Please enjoy the photos and feel free to leave me your thoughts.

Into Nature

One of my passions is camping and if you add my camera, then it’s simply incredible.  I have not camped all season simply because I have not had a free weekend to do so and now it’s almost too hot…..almost.

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I decided to camp over Mother’s Day, this way I get to spend time with my youngest son, and as a bonus his best friend as well.  The boys got me the most beautiful card and wrote the most beautiful sentiments on it, I was also graced with a bouquet of flowers and a scrumptious meal prepared by my son and we went to breakfast the following morning.

Because I was in the Big Cypress, of course I have to drive Turner River Road, Wagon Wheel and Birdon Road.  Didn’t see much when it came to wildlife although I did see a deer, but he moved to quickly for me to get a photo.  I was downcast to see several dead snakes and a dead baby alligator, I wish people were more careful.

Tommy and I also walked the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk and were invaded by Deer Flies, but we persevered and were graced with a young Barred Owl, of course on this trip I only brought my iPhone so there are pictures, just not close up; I did get some great cell phone shots from our walk.

 

This is a time lapse photo, but it’s a bit jumpy (sorry)

I love being outdoors, I need to do it more often.

Until next time, I’ll see you behind the lens!

A New Year……So it Begins

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This year started out wonderfully!  I camped over the holiday and it was perfect weather for it too. I had a photo shoot which my son Tommy Owen assisted me; a repeat family I had taken portraits for a couple of years ago.  Getting to work with my son is the best!

It was a great time of renewing and refreshing from the busy holiday season, and I got out and photographed some nature.  Being out in the Big Cypress and the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk this gives my mind a break and my eyes as they seem to always either be on my phone or my computer when at home.  I tried to disconnect as much as possible, just to free myself.  Please enjoy the slideshow.

Happy 2018!

Time Off

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I took some much needed time off. After a full summer and a busy start to our concert season along with weddings, portraits and other work, I was ready to unplug and get back to nature.

My go to place as I’ve posted in the past is in the Everglades.  I love to camp and I took four full days to step out of the digital world and relax.  I did do some posting to Facebook, but instead of worrying about my status, I took camera in hand and stepped out into the swamp.

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Because of the cooler temperatures (great for camping), the alligators were in abundance along the road of Jane’s Scenic Drive in the Fakahatchee Strand, and on the trails my son and I walked, (check out his website: Phloridaphoto.us He even decided to get a bit more up close and personal with a gator lying on the path we were walking.

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I stopped and photographed him, photographing the alligator.  I just could not bring myself to be that close to something that large with huge teeth.  As my son walked past him, Mr. Gator lifted his head and rumbled that deep throaty sound as a warning to let him know he may be a bit too close.   I had the same experience as I hung out the car door to get a rather large alligator hanging out on the road we were driving.

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We also went out two nights in a row to capture the Milky Way, however during the hours we were there, the sky have cloud cover in the general vicinity.  We did capture the sky at night and this photograph shows Miami glowing in the distance as the International Space Station does a fly over (I have an app on my phone called Sky Guide that allows me to track this).

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Overall it was a wonderful relaxing long weekend, with friends, family and my camera.

Maybe Someday…

This year I decided to take at least one weekend per month and either do some day trips or camp.  I really prefer camping because I can incorporate day trips into the camping and that get’s me out and away.  This aways refreshes my soul and helps with my creativity and simply makes me a better me.

I prefer heading to the Everglades, it’s where my soul belongs, even though I left it years ago, I do sometimes long to go back.  The people are fascinating and the stories are many.  I could sit for hours (and sometimes do) listening to the locals talk about the “way it used to be”.  I long for a time much simpler than how I live today.  I could live as a minimalist, in a tiny house somewhere in the woods.  I really don’t need much and I think I would be just fine.  Maybe someday.

I love being outdoors.  I am in an office five days a week for eight hours a day and on the weekend I find I must get out.  When I am camping, I get to sit by a campfire, share a meal with my son and his girlfriend and just do nothing or say nothing if I don’t want to.

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I go to bed early and arise as the sun is coming up and the birds are beginning to sing.

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I overheard a camper yesterday lament about how they hated the birds in the early morning, because they woke them up. Really? how can you hate something so magical and beautiful as birds singing in the new day. I could wake to that sound every single day and be ecstatic for another day.  Maybe someday.

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Coffee is always better when it’s a cold brisk morning and you arise to the sun shining and the birds flitting about and the dewy freshness of a new day.  I so enjoy sitting in the quiet of the morning when I am camping and allowing my body to awaken with nature.  I would love to do this every single day for the rest of my life.  Maybe someday.

I find I don’t miss the television with it’s mundane programming, or the radio blaring; campers around me always seem to have a radio going, and I just don’t understand why? Why do you need that outside element of noise when there is so much more to hear? and if you just look around life is more exciting than anything the television has to offer.  in my short few days, I was able to see a baby raccoon climbing a tree.  Birds feeding, alligators lounging around in the sun trying to get warm after a few chilly nights and I got to experience real conversations with people. I learned so much more than if I had been at home in front of a little box.  I hope to experience this more and more.  Maybe someday.

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Thanksgiving Adventures

Again this year I went camping down in the Big Cypress.  I have needed a really good stint away from all that’s electronic, my phone, computer etc. and totally disconnect for a few days.  I have been really busy the last few months and just felt my body calling me to get away and to refresh and relax, and that I did.  My youngest son lives/works in the Big Cypress and I went to Trail Lakes Campground/Everglades Adventure Tours to spend Thanksgiving with him and friends.  I brought a dish to share at his request; candied yams & marshmallows.  I was able to go to sleep early and wake up just as early pretty well rested and ready to simply do nothing  or to take my camera and capture whatever caught my fancy.

I left late Wednesday afternoon and got there with plenty of time to set up camp which takes less than a half hour; simple is best for me.  I went to sleep fairly early and woke up Thursday morning ready to head to Turner River Road to check out their boardwalk.  Took a few photos, but later that evening was what I was waiting on.  You see Thanksgiving evening was a full moon and I was excited to capture it in a really dark place.

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For the rest of the afternoon I hung out at the store and talked with the people as they came in to check out this little piece of nostalgia.  I also took some photos of my son’s butterfly garden which was quite active.

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We had dinner around 4pm and there was so much food, most made by campground residents and probably the best turkey I have ever eaten.  It was so good, and lots of tasty sides to accompany the main bird, all the traditional things, plus some really good repeats from last year.  I was definitely in a food coma and really wanted to sleep, but I waited for the moon to rise…..and rise it did simply stunning.

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The next day I wanted to go to where my oldest son works as an alligator wrestler/handler and check out he and his best friend’s show.  I got some great video and photos of the two of them working.

Saturday I went to the Fakahatchee boardwalk and took a few photos there, it was late in the day so not much was out and about except this mama and one of her little ones.

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Later in the evening my youngest son (the adventure guide) took me out on one of his tours and I was able to take some breathtakingly beautiful photographs.  I also took photos of his clients and I will be sending those photos to them.  I also met a nice woman and her son who was out at the same time.  Really nice people.  When we returned Tommy’s girlfriend had dinner ready for us when we got back to the campground and it was so good!  Nothing beats dinner prepared on an outdoor fire.  Later Tommy was trying his hand at candle making, and was quite successful, looking forward to some future creations from him.

Sunday came too soon… it’s always sad to leave when I know I will be back at the grind for another month and a half without much of a break.  I will be heading back down in January.   I love going down there, I learn a lot of history from Jack who was born there and he is a wealth of local knowledge of the area.  I come away always with something new learned.

On my way home I drove part of Jane’s Scenic Drive and captured a few good photos of the drive and prairie.

What a fabulous few days, I am so blessed and thankful for the time off and that I got to spend time with my two favorite people; my handsome sons who I love and am so proud of the young men they have become.

For all of you who follow me and live in the United Stated, I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and for all of you who are from outside the US here is to a blessed and beautiful holiday season.

Mother’s Day

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.

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A Year In Review

Wow can you believe 2014 is just about over?  What an incredible year and I am simply blessed with all the wonderful things I have seen behind the lens of my camera.  From wildlife to rockstars my camera has been there to document the best of the best.  Thank you so much for your continued support of my blog, it’s been incredibly successful.   Please enjoy the slide show I have prepared and HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

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Photography In Paradise

I have wanted to go camping for several months now and finally had a weekend free where I could even think about doing it. I love to camp and if I can take my camera and explore even better. I decided on camping at Trail Lakes Camp Ground in Ochopee, Florida which is a multi-generation family owned business. I have known the family for several years and my son went to school with the current owner. This place is unique as it’s been around for well over 50 years and owned by the same family. Big Cypress has tried to have them removed but they have endured.   This particular trip had a goal in mind, my youngest son wanted me to take portrait style photos for him, so I knew I would be using the camera a lot and for this reason I was even more excited about going.

I decided to arrive on Friday evening after work because I wanted a full day on Saturday and didn’t want it interrupted with drive time, even though it only takes an hour to get there I knew I would have plenty of time Friday evening to set up my campsite and eat a bite before dark.

My campsite
My campsite

This was a great decision because I was awarded with an amazing night sky. I met up with Tommy after he got off work and we shared a meal at my camp. My son lives on the campground and is a guide for Everglades Adventure Tours which is housed out of Trail Lakes Campground and is run by Jack Shealy who also is now running the campground area. Tommy is a bit of a local legend himself because last April he had an encounter with a ten foot Burmese Python, one of the exotics currently trying to take over the Everglades. Growing up in this area and the son of a biologist, Tommy’s instincts kicked in and he got in the water and grabbed the snake. You can see the video on his website www.phloridaphoto.us

The weather was near perfect for sleeping cool but not cold and the stars! I was also serenaded to sleep by a chorus of frogs, so delightful to hear. I woke up fairly early and planned out my day. Made a quick breakfast and headed out to Turner River Road and HP Williams Park. I saw the usual, alligators, wading birds and tourists. I ventured on down the extremely dusty road toward Wagon Wheel road in hope of encountering a Purple Gallinule and to get a wide vista shot of the Big Cypress Preserve; goal two was achieved, didn’t get the Purple Gallinule as the growth was incredibly heavy. I headed back to my campsite to get a bit of lunch and to see what time Tom would be off work, I then proceeded to take a brief nap in my very warm tent. I awoke and muddled about cleaning my camera until Tommy’s quitting time. A short time later we met up packed our gear and headed off into the Saw Grass prairie in back of the property. Tommy brought several changes of clothes as he wanted to get some different shots in different areas. His first choice was business wear, dress shirt & pants, totally out of place in a swamp, but then again if you knew my son, you’d understand. The contrast of being dressed up and being out in this wild area was actually quite striking and it accented his natural good looks. As we were shooting we had a visitor, whom he thought was secured in the house; his dog Sunny, she had broken free and knew where to find her master, it turned out really well as I was able to get some shots of the two of them. This was a pleasant surprise.

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After several scenery and clothing changes we packed our stuff back up headed to his place to see what I captured, (this is the most exciting part for me). I was blown away at the incredible images that came forth on his computer.

I headed off to my camp cut up by the Saw Grass (lives up to its name) and excited for Sunday as we were going to head to the Fakahatchee Strand. After trekking around for a couple of hours I was tired and sleep came quickly.

Sunday morning arrived and I packed up most of my gear back into my car and headed to get Tom. We detoured into Everglades City and had a wonderful breakfast at the Island Café. Then off we headed to the Fakahatchee. My ex-husband, Tommy’s dad is still biologist there and it’s easy to understand why he loves this place, as there is nothing else like it in North America. We drove down Jane’s Scenic Drive heading to our destination with a few stops on the way to look for the illusive Everglades Mink which Tommy was fortunate enough to capture on video and on camera (first person to post it ever on You Tube). We checked the spot and didn’t see any signs of them. We did encounter plenty of Great Egrets, White Ibis, and Snowy Egrets in our path. We also stopped at an Alligator hole and were fortunate enough to see one being quite active. As you can see from the photograph, it was VERY active!

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We finally reached our destination of West Main tram and saw a small gathering of people, watching something very intently with cameras in hand. We grabbed our gear and took a look at what they were watching. They were watching an entire family of Everglades Mink, this was my first time ever seeing them even after living there for 13+ years. I was so excited and hopeful that I would be able to capture one on camera. I did, even though it’s only the back of its head I was able to get a decent photo. Not only did I see one I have a photograph to prove it! Even the deer flies we later encountered were unable to dampen my day, it was incredible.

Everglades Mink
Everglades Mink

Heading down the hiking path we scouted out a few locations that Tommy was interested in using as his portrait backdrops, we came upon an old cabin and even though the hand scribbled sign said it was a private residence the place looked as if it had not been inhabited for quite some time so we stopped there to get a few photos again with him dressed like a business man. We also moved on and found some other interesting spots to shoot from including him climbing an orange tree.

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A few clothing changes later we headed back out, but not before I turned around and for the second time in one day saw another Everglades Mink, we staked it out, but they are so quick and so quiet that neither of us were able to squeeze off a frame. Coming out of the swamp we were tired and hot and ready for ice cream. After making a short trip back to the campground we headed back off to Everglades City to a local shop called Sweet Mayberry’s for some wonderful gelato and a cookie. This little shop is owned by another local whom my boys grew up and spent a lot of time with. Tommy has a lot of his framed photographs in this shop as well as his postcards.

Finishing up our sweet treat we headed out and this is sadly where I had to tell my boy goodbye, as I had to head back home to begin another work week. You can bet I will be heading back down there again soon. It was a great weekend and one I won’t soon forget. So what have you seen from Behind the Lens?

 

 

A Day in the LIfe

I am really fortunate that I have lived in one of the prettiest places in North America, the Florida Everglades. I am also fortunate that my son Tommy is a guide in the ‘Glades and I get to visit. This past Friday I had that opportunity, but not only did I have the pleasure, but I was able to take someone with me (a new friend) who had this trip on her bucket list. Linda, is a friend of a friend and one of my future clients as well. Her son is getting married to our mutual friend’s daughter in July and my son Tommy and I are honored to be photographing the wedding as a team.

I picked Linda up from a location our friend and I agreed upon and our adventure began. As we drove along we were able to get acquainted and I really enjoyed her company. She is a school teacher from the north and for her being down here this time of year was a real treat, considering her home was blanketed in snow and still quite cold. She was enjoying our 80 degree sunny weather.

Linda wasn’t sure what to expect and of course didn’t know where exactly she was being taken, which I think added to her excitement. We arrived at Everglades Adventure Tours in Ochopee, Florida and while waiting for our tour guide Tommy (my son) we looked around the eclectic gift shop. Linda found a few things she wanted to purchase including an alligator head and a postcard of a photo my son took. She decided to wait until our return to make her gift purchases.

Linda
Linda

Tommy loaded us up and our driver took us to our destination; a place I had never been even with living down in that area. I had heard about it, but never took a trip. Generally our three hour tour would have been on the Turner River, however due to low water the river is closed for commercial use. I’m sort of glad it was. Donna Drive turned out to be a mecca of photographic opportunity. I am always proud to listen to my youngest son, do what he loves which is the interpretation of his home. This young man has quite a history of his own and being only 27 years old has had many wonderful adventures which include kayaking the Mississippi River (54 days) and again in a canoe for 500 miles. He also wrestled a python that was spotted in what he considers his home while on a tour; of which the video went viral. If you Google ‘Tommy Owen Python’ you should find a plethora of links to view that video. He makes his mother very proud.

As we were traveling, (the great thing about this trip is the clients don’t have to do any paddling) and this particular trip was an actual photo safari. As soon as I sat down in our boat I took out my camera, I didn’t want to miss any opportunity and Linda followed suit. It was a gorgeous warm day with a slight breeze and as we entered the river/canal we were greeted by a beautiful blue sky with wonderful white puffy clouds, picture perfect.

Donna Drive
Donna Drive

We were on the lookout for birds, the possible alligator and any other creature who calls the Florida Everglades home. After about an hour on the water, we came upon a flat marsh area; one of many habitats within this community. Looking at it, you would think it would be dry and easily accessible. Linda was thrilled to be able to add this to her day and we all got a good laugh as we realized, this area was not “dry”, but actually quite wet and if we didn’t step in the grass areas we were going to sink, sometimes up to our knees! Linda was the first to go down, as I turned around to get a photo of her, guess who also fell? Me! We both had a good laugh and Tommy who had Linda’s camera, caught it all.

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Me

I was able to get a couple of photos of Linda “sitting” in the mud after I made my way back to a standing position. We walked around a bit more and then decided to work our way back to the boat. What fun! The most amazing thing, this so called mud really isn’t mud, not in the dirt sense of the word, but a mixture of peat like plant material that has decayed and built up layers in the water. Getting out of it we realized we were not dirty.

Tour guide Tommy Owen
Tour guide Tommy Owen

Our wonderful guide headed back out and took us in another direction into different habitat. We went through a couple of Mangrove tunnels then back out onto the Sawgrass areas where we finally saw an alligator.

Small Alligator
Small Alligator

Heading back in Linda said the trip far exceeded her expectations and she too had a camera full of photos. One of her goals on the trip was to get some tips and tricks in using her camera. She was happily snapping away and using her manual settings on her camera by the end of the tour. Teaching other’s to use their camera is something I truly enjoy.

Our day was not quite finished. After making her purchases in the Swamp Ape Headquarters gift shop, Linda, Tommy & I then headed over to Joanie’s Blue Crab Café, you simply can’t miss this opportunity. The food is very good, but the atmosphere can’t be duplicated. This little roadside café has been featured in the Disney movie ‘Gone Fishin’ with Danny Glover & Joe Pesci. You could spend hours simply looking at all the things in this place. I love the notice posted upon the wall behind the cash register that says “if you want fast food, keep driving”, kind of sums it all up. Joanie wasn’t there and was sorry I missed her this trip. For anyone reading this, you must stop if you are in the Ochopee area.

After dropping Tommy off back at Trail Lakes Camp Ground we said our goodbyes to him and Linda and I headed back, but not before we made a stop at the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk at the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve Park. We were able to see two young eaglets in the Bald Eagles nest which is viewable from the boardwalk, and had some gorgeous birds greet us at the end of the alligator pond. There was also a nice large alligator at the entrance to the boardwalk.

Bald Eaglets
Bald Eaglets

Great Egret
Great Egret

All in all it was an incredible day and I’m always reminded of the wonderful area we live in and the diversity of wildlife we can possibly encounter each and every day if we simply open our eyes and look. I am fortunate because I have a child who lives and works in this beautiful area and I can visit and go out as often as I can with him. If you are ever in the area of Ochopee, Florida please visit Trail Lakes Campground/Skunk Ape Headquarters/Everglades Adventure Tours and tell them Tommy’s mom sent you. Take a guided tour with Tommy and you will be glad you did. The uniqueness of this tour makes it well worth the money. It’s a private tour, which means only your party is with the guide, you don’t have to paddle, your guide will do it for you. Take your camera because you will be able to capture your trip without worry of getting wet, and make sure you tell your story on Trip Advisor. For more information please visit www.evergladesadventuretours.com and Tommy Owen’s website at http://www.phloridaphoto.us/