Hidden Gems for Outdoor Photography

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By Steve Russell

Over the last six or eight months, Tiffany and I have offered a number of articles discussing ideas of where and what to shoot ranging from your backyard to personal treasures like ceramic frogs. This is another along similar lines.

If you enjoy outdoor photography as I do, then finding a place away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life can sometimes be a challenge.

We’re all aware of national parks, state parks and wildlife refuges. Unfortunately, while some of these natural treasures like Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas are remote and not overrun with people, there are times when some, like Yellowstone and Yosemite, are as crowded as the urban areas that we as outdoor photographers are trying to get away from. Even some of the wildlife refuges are overcrowded and can be frustrating for serious photographers. Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Island, Florida comes to mind.

Orlando Wetlands First

There is a category of places that aren’t crowded with people and where wildlife is abundant. They are manmade wetlands constructed to treat the millions of gallons of wastewater that we dump every day. There are hundreds of these wetlands across the United States alone. For the most part, they go unnoticed. You’ll find photographers and birders as well as a few hikers and mountain bike riders but these wetlands are rarely crowded. For this article I’m going to focus on one, the Orlando Wetlands Park in Christmas, FL but with a little bit of searching you can probably find one close to you.
The following is taken from a website describing the Orlando Wetlands Park:

The Iron Bridge Regional WRF was constructed in 1979 by the City of Orlando with a mandate from the U.S.E.P.A. to consolidate several wastewater treatment facilities and to expand the available sewer capacity in the area. However, regional facility needed more effluent disposal capacity by the mid-1980s. An innovative solution to this situation was to develop a man-made wetlands system for the reuse of the highly treated effluent from the regional treatment facility. The City of Orlando purchased 1,650 acres in 1986 at a cost of $5,128,000 near Fort Christmas for this purpose. The 1,220 acre man-made wetland treatment system was completed in July 1987 with the conversion of the former pasture areas into wetlands.

The system was designed with a hydraulic capacity of 35 million gallons a day of reclaimed wastewater. The water is conveyed through a four-foot diameter pipeline approximately 17 miles to the influent distribution structure for the wetlands. Seventeen cells and three distinct wetland communities were created to remove residual amounts of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from the reclaimed water. The ecological communities include deep marsh areas, mixed marsh and wet prairie and hardwood – cypress swamps. The site planted with 2.3 million aquatic plants, including 200,000 trees, to create the man-made wetlands. A lake is contained within one of the cells.

The open waters of the lake and marshes attract wintering waterfowl, including blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, common moorhens and American coots. Wood storks, white ibis, black-crowned night herons, and other wading birds are common during the cooler months. Bald eagles, limpkins, and red-shouldered hawks, black vultures, and turkey vultures are year round residents in the Orlando Wetlands Park. Raccoons, river otters, white-tailed deer and bobcats can be seen along the roads and hiking trails. The Orlando Wetlands is home to over 30 species of wildlife that are listed on the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Threatened and Endangered Wildlife list.

As you can see, this isn’t a small farm pond. It takes 40 days for the water to move through the wetlands which means that on average there are 1.4 billion gallons of water contained within the wetlands.

Within the last month, I’ve visited the park twice, arriving before dawn to have time to set up and photograph the sunrise.

Orlando Wetlands Sunrise

On February 5th sunrise was at 7:11am. We were in location and set up by 6:30am, about halfway between nautical and civil twilight. Unfortunately, the sky was mostly overcast except for a few breaks that enabled me to get this shot.

Panorama Orlando Wetlands

A photography instructor I once had told me that when you’re having a difficult time finding something to photograph, turn around. I did that and was able to capture this panorama.

Common Moorhen

About 45 minutes after sunrise I came across these two Common Moorhens. They “posed” for about 10 minutes while I took about 20 photos.

The second trip on February 13th was much like the first except for the weather. It was about 34 degrees when we arrived and was slow to warm up that morning. Yes, I know that’s not so cold where many of you live but this is Florida where 34 degrees is really cold.

Anhinga

A bonus of the cold weather was that it caused the fog to rise from the water as shown here in the image of two Anhingas roosting in the dead tree drying their feathers.

Coot-b

This American Coot was sitting almost perfectly still which allowed me to get a good reflection image.

White Ibis-b

The White Ibis was also very cooperative and allowed me to capture this shot.

These images are but a small sample of what’s available to shoot at the park. Osprey, Caracara, Glossy Ibis, Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks and many other birds can be seen in the park. Alligators are also very common in the park but they weren’t active when I was there because of the cool weather. However, we did see a pair of River Otters playing in the water.

Look for man-made wetlands and other hidden gems in your area and you may be amazed at the photographic opportunities the wetlands provide. If you know of any of these hidden places near you, please mention them in the comments section below so that other photographers in your area can learn about them.

Photo Credits: All Steve Russell

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