by Stephen Tabone

I travel to Florida often to visit family, but I always make sure that I have plenty of time to capture some of Florida’s natural beauty to include photographing birds.  Florida is well known for its significant variety of land birds and water birds.  According to the Florida Ornithological Society, 485 species of birds have been seen in Florida.  I have photographed a lot of birds in Florida, but nowhere near 485, but obviously, Florida is a great location for bird photography.


One of my most memorable photographic experiences, as well as just witnessing it, was in December of 2008 when over 5,000 Sandhill Cranes (Gus Canadensis) wintered at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Gainesville, a 22,000 acre preserve.  Whenever in Florida I shoot Paynes Prairie, because of its variety of landscape, which is always changing depending on the amount of rain during the year, and its variety of wildlife and birds.  Sometimes, it can be very dry, and at other times, the Prairie basin is so wet it forms a tremendous wetland or lake.


Typically, 1,000 to 2,000 Sandhill Cranes winter in Florida; however, in 2009, there were over 5,000 cranes on the Prairie.  Sandhill Cranes stand about 4 feet tall with a bright red crest on the top of their heads, and their calls can be heard over a half-mile away.  They migrate each year to Florida from Michigan and Wisconsin.


To add to photographic opportunity in 2008, there were 14 endangered Whooping Cranes among the Sandhill Cranes.  The Whooping Cranes stand out from the Sandhills because they are mostly white, about foot taller, and have a 7 foot wingspan.

The Sandhill Cranes spend the night roosting in knee-deep water, and early each morning, fly to feeding grounds in the marsh or nearby fields in the Gainesville area.  Even without a camera, seeing and hearing thousands of cranes as they take off at dawn is a goose bump experience.  However, I was there with my Nikon cameras and lenses and was able to capture some of what I experienced.  Nevertheless, it was hard to capture in an image frame the vast numbers of cranes on the ground or in the air.


Besides shooting the cranes from the ground on the Prairie, I charted a helicopter for over three hours, and shot the cranes from the air.  Shooting the Prairie and the thousands of cranes from the air was thrilling and rewarding.  I was even able to photograph small flocks as they flew below the helicopter.  I did not spend the entire three hours over the Prairie, but also shot some of Florida’s forests, lakes, and the Gulf coast from the air.


I have many hundreds of images from that memorable trip, and some of them are contained in the slide show accompanying this article.  Obviously, I highly recommend photographing Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, and if you would like some tips, directions, etc., feel free to contact me.


You can see more of Stephen's photography at :
His blog at: http:/ / stevetaboneblog. com
Stephen's primary Website is:
Additional photographs can be viewed at: http:/ / www. pbase. com/ stabone


All images on this page © Stephen L. Tabone Nature Photography


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