Why a Wonder: One of the best places in the United States to photograph Osprey is the Blue Cypress Lake in Florida. Over 200 pair of Osprey come to the shores of this beautiful lake every Spring to build nests, lay eggs and feed and fledge their young. The lake is also studded with spectacular Bald Cypress trees and Cypress knees hung with Spanish Moss. The lake is the largest in Florida's Treasure Coast. It is some 6,555 acres and the headwaters of the St. John's River.
When: Late March to early April for nest building and April to May for feeding and fledging chicks.
Where: The lake is located on Florida's East Coast about 30 minutes west of Vero Beach. It is accessed off Florida SR 60. There is a signed entrance to Middleton's Fish Camp (be on the lookout, it's easy to miss) where you turn in and take the 5-mile graded road through pasture and wetland that leads to the fish camp and lake boat ramp and dock. The lake is popular with fishermen seeking Large Mouth Bass, Speckled Perch, Bluegill and Catfish. Accommodations can be found in Vero Beach and there are also a number of cabin rentals right on the lake. Contact Blue Cypress Lakeside Cabins. Middleton's may be able to accommodate RVs and some camping. Check with the fish camp.
Photography: You need a boat to access the nesting sites. Pontoon boats are recommended as they are the most stable for photography and can even accommodate tripod use. Most pontoon boats are hired with a captain guide who is knowledgeable about the lake and the nesting sites. The boats, depending on size, generally accommodate 4-6 photographers. Group pontoon rentals can be arranged through Don and Barbara Buhr of Blue Cypress Lake Tours or at Middleton's Fish Camp through Roy Bass. There also are numerous photographer-led workshops that include a boat and also provide instruction in bird photography. These can be found on-line.
Most trips start with a sunrise shot of the stunning cypress trees. Ideally you will want a fast wide angle lens but may also want a telephoto to capture tree details such as branches hung with Spanish Moss against the rising sun. For Osprey, a long telephoto in the 400-800mm range will capture birds in flight with nesting material or fish, nesting birds and chicks. Pontoon boats can approach fairly close to the nests but not close enough so the birds will take flight. A lens in this range will serve well for close-ups as well as shots of the birds in their environment. A tripod can be helpful but is not required. However, hand holding a long lens for hours is tiring. You will also want a jacket for cool morning sunrise shots, a good sun hat, water and snacks. Most trips run 2-3 hours and some include both morning and evening sessions. Workshops may run over several days.