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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A morning with the Maestro

For a long time now I have wanted to travel to Florida to sample the avian delights it has to offer and when a good friend of mine, Bill Lockhart, offered to be my guide for a day I jumped at the chance. Of course this was a family holiday, not a photo safari, so my time was limited and I needed a good guide.

Unfortunately my guide had no idea how to approach wildlife photography, in fact he took me to an industrial area looking for sandhill cranes. I was starting to think his nickname "Crazy 'ole Bill" was not just given in jest.

Upon finding a willing threesome I was ready to don my RealtreeHD outfit, hike through a swamp, setup a blind (hide), use some decoy calls and sit for a few hours in the hope they would approach me and I could get a single shot using my 500mm L and tele-converter. But the darned guide got so excited, wanted to test his new camera and wildlife lens, he was off before I could so much as say "Mossy oak leaf suit"!

 So off I ran to to get a good position, a position which the terrified birds were sure to pass. Sure enough, my guide had scared the living wits out of the cranes and they were on their way.

One of the poor creatures was so scared it tried to disguise itself as a squirrel and started to eat a pine cone.

Another as a woodpecker.

In the end they reported us to a security guard and we had to leave.

My guide took me to various spots in the Clearwater and Dunedin area, each time we stalked the birds and wildlife "Florida" style, here is a quick check list for those uninitiated.

1. Park your vehicle, don't worry if you are driving fast, skidding to a halt is acceptable.
2. Open your door, jump out and slam the door shut.
3. Open the rear door to retrieve your gear, take time to swap lenses or bodies, then slam the door shut.
4. Now walk right up to the intended victim and shoot away, do not get too close it will probably walk towards you anyway.
5. Curse loudly at only having brought a tele prime with you, not being able to zoom back to 24mm is a real problem in Florida.
6. Once home check all your shots of the birds head, eye or beak. Many will be out of focus as the critters wandered within minimum focusing distance.

No really, my guide opened my eyes. You see Bill Lockhart has for many a year posted wonderful images of birds and wildlife (and the occasional landscape), I figured he had an air-boat and used it to navigate swamps. Once in his blind I was sure Bill sat for hours on end, swatting mosquitoes and fighting alligators in order to take that one shot which danced on my screen.

I now know different. I now know the wildlife is everywhere and not (yet?) persecuted in Florida. Ospreys nest along the roads and in the housing estates. Terns and waders go happily about their business on busy beaches and causeways. Sandhill cranes hunt in the grass around industrial units. Deer wander in public parks oblivious to the human activity. It is truly amazing.

So I leave you for now with a few more images taken that morning with my good friend Bill, with who I have, for many years, communicated with over the wires. It was a pleasure to finally meet in person, a like minded soul searching for that special something in his photos, as in life. Adventure, light and balance. You can find Bill, a Floridian all his life, here. His images speak for themselves, go find them.

I even had the privilege to shoot some of  LPU 409 (Local Pelican Union) despite my lack of license they agreed to charge Bill more fish on his next time around. Here we see Lady Hildegard Von Wurstwasser preening, she is a large lady and I had to stitch three shots together to fit her all in.

The herons are less fussy, they will work for crabs.

The skimmers just sit and watch.

The deer hide until a photographer happens along, then they jump out and pose. I had to walk backwards just to focus.

The ospreys just look on, in awe of our professionalism.

Many thanks Bill for a memorable morning.


  1. LOL. Now you have done it. Exposed my techniques for all the world to know. Next time you get to Florida I will show you a real swamp, complete with Black Bears. Good post Neil, thanks. Bill

  2. Thanks Bill, I will hold you to that and you of course are invited to Munich in January to shoot some buzzards(of the buteo kind ), I am sure 9 hours a day at -15° sat in the hide will be a treat ;)

  3. Wow wildlife photography sounds one heck of a lot easier over there! Sounds like you boys had a good day and some nice shots too!