Bird Adventures in Florida

by David Lilly
May 4, 2012




Roseate Spoonbill by David Lilly ©

Roseate Spoonbill

Every once in a while bird photographers travel to exotic locations. From April 23rd to the 31st  myself and fellow bird photographer Ian Neilson traveled to St, Augustine, Florida in search of some different birds and also to attend the St. Augustine's Birding and Photo Festival. We were not disappointed.

Great Crested Flycatcher by David Lilly ©

Great Crested Flycatcher

We flew from Calgary via Toronto into Orlando and met up with Florida Bird Photographers Wayne Bennet and Ken Bly.  I went to Orlando a couple of years ago and contacted the Orlando Camera Club to see if anyone would be willing to show me some bird photography hots pots, Wayne and Ken responded, we have been on several trips together since that time. On this trip I contacted Wayne and Ken and met up with them early on the 24th of April and headed to Wayne and Ken's favourite bird photography locations.

Little Blue Heron by David Lilly ©

Little Blue Heron

The sun was just starting to rise when we stooped at our first photography location, two young Bald Eagles standing in a nest waiting for breakfast from mom and dad. The birds were silhouetted and did make a good photograph. As we stood and watched the eagles. Wayne pointed to a Yellow-bellied Woodpecker making his way along the fence line in front of us. I started to get excited as I have never seen this woodpecker before. As he made his way along the fence line I snapped a dozen or so shots and got a couple of keepers. As the day passed we had photographed Osprey, Egrets, Moor Hens, Great Crested Flycatchers, Swifts, Bald Eagles, Green herons, Glossy Ibis, Sand Hill Cranes, Red headed Woodpecker, Red Shoulder hawk and a Limpkin, another lifer for me.

Great Egret by David Lilly ©

Great Egret

On the 25th of April we drove to St. Augustine from Orlando for the 10th Annual Birding and Photo festival (approx two hours).For in depth information on the Photo Fest see Ten Years of Photo Fest by Kari Post from


Wood Stork by David Lilly ©

Wood Stork

The Birding festival consisted of Lectures during the day with early morning guided birding walks. Wayne and Ken were exhibitors with a booth showing off their “ Puffin Pad” However, we were able to get out early with Wayne and Ken to there favourite bird photography locations. The high light was a Least Tern nesting site. The male terns were looking for a female. They were constantly coming and going with fish providing great flight photography opportunities. In among the terns were nesting Wilson”s Plovers. Red Knots were at the waters edge. The St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm on the 26 of April was an amazing place and provided lots of Birds in flight photography opportunities.

Great Blue Heron with Fish by David Lilly ©

Great Blue Heron with Fish

When the door opened at 10 a.m. we were the first in line. We did not know that a Photographers Permit could be purchased for the year for early access. When we got to the board-walk we were surprised to find 50 or so bird photographers all with 500 – 600mm lenses. Also, we were shocked to see how many nesting birds were at this location. We thought we were in bird heaven. I started with my 500mm and soon learned it was too long and switched to my 300mm F4 Nikon. The light was good and we photographed using shutter speed of 1\3200 sec at ISO 400 with the aperture wide open. The birds were just starting to build nests with many birds flying in and out. Most of the birds were first timers for both of us. Birds included Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Cattle Egret and Black-crowned Night Herons, and Wood Storks. Below the board-walk were many huge Alligators bathing in the sun.

Great Egret by David Lilly ©

Great Egret

Limpkin by David Lilly ©


Little Egret by David Lilly ©

Little Egret

Tree Swallow by David Lilly ©

Tree Swallow

Bird photographers need to rejuvenate on occasions. Trips to exotic places maybe just what you need.

Here are some lessons I learned from this trip:

  1. Carry two bags on the airplane and distribute your camera gear, I had a Lowe Pro AW Trecker 11 with a Nikon 500mm, 18 - 200mm and one camera body with charger etc. The bag weighed in a little over 22lbs. I carried my 300mm and second camera body in my laptop bag. Bottom line weight is an issue, only take what you need. We packed our tripods in our checked baggage.

  2. When we showed up at the airport we went to customs to get a green card for our 500mm lens, that had not been registered. All camera equipment should be registered with Canada Customs. It will save you you the time and aggravation of trying to explain where and when you bought the equipment to customs. Could save you the cost of duty on your equipment.

  3. If you rent a car at your destination, make sure it has a trunk for more security. As the old saying goes, “Out of sight out of mind.”

  4. Although, we never had a problem with storage of equipment in our hotel, equipment should again be stored out of sight.

  5. To help ID the birds, I brought along the book, All the birds or North America.

  6. Make contact with local photographers. Wayne and Ken were excellent scouts for me and Ian. They were at St, Augustine the year prior and had all the hot spots scouted out. We tagged along and photographed the birds. It saved us time and we were in the right spots at the right time.

  7. If you are attending a festival of some sort, make sure you register for the workshops far in advance. In the US there a lot of photographers and big events draw big crowds.

Wood stork bringing branches to the nest by David Lilly ©

Wood stork bringing branches to the nest

David Lilly portrait


David LiIlly is a professional nature photographer living and working in Calgary, AB he also teaches photo workshops. His photos have been published in PhotoLife, Calgary's Natural Parks, Alberta Nature Magazine and Fine Scale Military Modeller. Dave shoots with Nikon equipment. This is Dave's 5th article for the Canadian Nature photographer.

David Lilly
Web site:

Phone: 403 703-6753 (Cell)


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