America 2019 - The Sunshine State

After already travelling to Iceland, Scotland and The Netherlands, it was now time for the big trip of the year - I love having big trips planned as they’re always the most exciting and this years adventure was state side to Florida! Florida has always appealed to me ever since falling in love with Arthur Morris’ work and in particular, I wanted to see and photograph Burrowing Owls more than anything! It was a nice feeling driving to the airport, I was super excited and it had been far too long since I had been, however the sinking feeling of my camera bag being 8kg too heavy and being told I needed to check it soon put a downer on my excitement! After a few words with a supervisor I was allowed to carry my camera gear with me throughout my travel and I was back to feeling happy. The 9 hour flight was tedious, quite boring and there’s only so much music I can listen too, but before long I was in America and eager to get the hire car and head out birding! Driving from MCO to the hotel it was fair to say birding was going to be easy as I already spotted lots of egrets, herons and various other species of bird. These big trips I take each year are mainly photography based but most of the time I always enjoy seeing new places and relaxing more and thats why I never seem to return home with tons of images. Florida however was different and there was a lot more photography than anything else and that’s why my state side visit is going to be split into two blogs - The Sunshine State and Owl City.

Compared to the UK, birding / bird photography is a million times easier and I really was shocked and before heading to the states, like I do on all my trips, I made a list of target species I wanted to see and within the first full day I am happy to say they were all ticked off... The first main target to be ticked off was Burrowing Owl, which, by a million-miles, will have to be one of the greatest wildlife encounters I have had. They are a species I have dreamt about seeing for many years and I really was amazed to see them in such great numbers, they were literally everywhere and as well as Burrowing Owls being a main target species, so was Tricolored Heron, Sandhill Crane and Anhinga’s. Although it seemed I visited at the wrong time of year, photographic opportunities were coming thick and fast and I absolutely loved it and during the 10 days I was there I managed to visit Myakka River State Park, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Honeymoon Island State Park, Gatorland, St Augustine Alligator Farm and a few other birding hotspots and there was still lots around to see. As I was getting further into the trip, Florida kept surprising me but none more so than when I visited Honeymoon Island. It was Osprey after Osprey after Osprey... it was osprey heaven! I spotted 20 individuals just on one road alone which from someone coming from the UK where sightings of them are far and few in between is bewildering, but sadly the 30+ degree heat and midday sun was too bad for photography... As well as the surprise of dozens of Osprey, so was the sight of a Bobcat on Merritt Island. When driving around the Black Point Wildlife Drive there it was, sat just by the side of the road. At first I really didn’t know what it was but as I approached slowly in the car in disappeared into the shrubs and the only close view I got of it was of it's ears. Even though I didn’t manage to photograph it I was still jaw-dropped as it was my first wild cat sighting and it was encounters like these just keeping on coming and made me fall in love with Florida. What I also loved was that I was able to go out everyday and no matter where I went I was always able to see something interesting and make lots of images, whether that be to the mall, the supermarket, stepping out of the hotel, or even a theme park, everywhere seemed full of life and in abundance too. I kept check of the species I was seeing throughout the trip and what I managed to see was more than I had bargained for, namely Burrowing Owl, Bobcat, Roseate Spoonbill, Manatee, Gators and Racoons, they were all amazing and as I have mentioned in previous blogs, just watching without my camera in hand was much more enjoyable, especially when I had several Manatees surfacing no more than 15ft in front of me! I honestly wish I had spent a month there as the more I explored, the more places I visited, each and every wildlife encounter kept getting better and crazier than the last and just like every other amazing place I have visited, I can’t wait to return in the near future!