Time Off

Autumn through Spring has me hopping when it comes to photography work.  Lots of concerts keep me from having very much free time and when I get any, it’s only for a few hours at most.  I do a lot of traveling and with editing my personal time is at a premium.

The past few weeks I have had completely free weekends and I took advantage and went camping.

My first adventure was over Mother’s Day weekend where I spent a lot of time with my youngest son Tommy Owen  at Trail Lakes Campground where I stayed in one of the wonderful cabins.We took an adventure and walked through an area where no one really goes.  It was around a lake that was full of alligators and nesting Green-back Herons.  Sometimes we didn’t really have a path to follow, we just allowed the lake bank to guide us.

 

 

We finished the day with dinner then off to Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk to attempt some night photography.

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The streak is an airplane

This past weekend I went camping at Myakka River State Park, it’s been a few years since I have been there and I made sure to secure my favorite spot.  The first evening was beautiful and I did a lot of shooting.

 

Saturday I went to The Ringling Museum for the morning and afternoon.

 

Upon returning to my campsite a heavy rainstorm ensued.  The rain continued all through the night and into the early morning.  I ended up leaving a little early because of the rain.  It was still a great weekend to be away enjoying the natural environment.

This weekend will be back to my concert shooting, so watch my Facebook page for some upcoming photos.  Until next time, from behind the lens.

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.

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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Thanksgiving Warmth

Photo taken by Jack Shealy
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.

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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.  Driving

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.

Winding Roads, Open Prairies & Close Encounters

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.

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?