As a conservation photographer, I’ve dedicated my profession to raising awareness of Florida’s lesser-known natural treasures with the purpose of inspiring their protection. I acquired my begin as knowledgeable photographer working with Smithsonian scientists within the rainforests of Central Africa. But after 4 years of expeditions on the opposite aspect of the globe witnessing relatively pristine nature, I grew more and more concerned concerning the speedy lack of wildlife habitat at residence and moved again to make Florida my full-time focus.
I am an eighth-generation Floridian and fortunate to have connections to our lesser-known heartland. That is the place I began my photographic quest. Via photographing Florida black bears that have been relying on Everglades cattle ranches, I discovered from biologists how a lot related habitat bears have to survive and at the similar time realized how rapidly new housing developments and roads have been chopping wildlife habitat into smaller and smaller pieces. I also noticed that the lands of cowboys and black bears have been nearly absent from Florida’s id and were not getting the eye they deserved.
That led me to discovered the Florida Wildlife Hall venture, a conservation campaign working to inspire protection of a statewide community of contiguous land, 17 million acres in complete, that keeps wild Florida related. By means of two major expeditions in 2012 and 2015, I have hiked, paddled and biked greater than 2,000 miles via the length and width of Florida. Along with producing books, movies and quite a few media tales along the best way, I additionally added to a lifetime shot listing of wonderful locations I need to revisit, several of which I’m going to share with you now.
Wild Florida: Favorite Locations
We’ll begin our journey alongside the Gulf of Mexico at Caladesi State Park, a barrier island close to the town of Clearwater, where I grew up. Caladesi is among the final wild locations in probably the most densely populated county in the Southeast and has all the time been an oasis for me. I developed robust connections to nature here as a boy, and it’s the first place I revisited as a photographer once I got here house from school. You possibly can attain Caladesi by a ferry boat from Dunedin or by walking two miles north alongside the sand from Clearwater Seashore (because of Hurricane Elena in 1985, which crammed in a land bridge between the 2 islands).
One among my favorite views of Caladesi is standing on the sting of Clearwater Seashore wanting east by way of the sand dunes across a shallow lagoon with layers of mash grasses, mangrove, palm and pines stacking toward the horizon. At dusk earlier than the complete moon, you possibly can catch it rising just above the timber within moments of when the solar has melted into the Gulf behind you.
Caladesi Island is one among Florida’s 175 award-winning state parks. Should you go to Caladesi, I like to recommend making the brief trip to Honeymoon Island State Park and Anclote Key Preserve State Park on neighboring barrier islands. The afternoon mild coming in low over the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s west coast is probably the most highly effective and sensible I’ve seen anyplace on the planet. In the summertime, be looking out for cold, darkish thunderheads marching seaward over the peninsula to offer intense contrast with the nice and cozy sundown rays. The juxtaposition will awaken your senses.
Reef at Loggerhead Key, 2014. At the far reaches of the Florida Keys, where the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet, a coral reef rises near the floor along the west aspect of Loggerhead Key. Right here, in Dry Tortugas Nationwide Park, the reefs host about 30 species of coral. While coral reefs are in dangerous shape worldwide, especially within the higher Florida Keys, where runoff from improvement and air pollution have been main causes of decline, the reefs within the Dry Tortugas survive in comparatively good well being because of being 65 miles from the closest human population and safeguarded within a marine-protected area.
The subsequent stop, Dry Tortugas National Park, can also be on the Gulf of Mexico. Seventy miles west of Key West, this maritime outpost is as far south and west as you possibly can go and nonetheless be in Florida. The one option to get there’s by boat or seaplane, and there are regular ferries and flights from Key West. There are implausible subjects throughout the Florida Keys, however the remoteness of the Dry Tortugas makes it one among my favourite locations on the earth. You’ll be able to camp on Backyard Key by the previous fortress at Fort Jefferson and travel by boat 3 miles to the subsequent island, Loggerhead Key, the place a 150-foot lighthouse stands over the shoals and reefs the place the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet. When you have a water housing, you gained’t need to miss the prospect to explore a few of America’s most vibrant coral reefs. When you have a dome port, you possibly can attempt split-level photographs that present the reef and either Fort Jefferson or the Loggerhead Key lighthouse within the background.
Ten Thousand Islands, 2015. Everglades Nationwide Park is the most important subtropical wilderness in america and protects the most important wilderness and largest contiguous mangrove forest within the western hemisphere. The park has been declared a world Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Website and one of the Wetlands of International Importance, certainly one of only three places on the planet to seem on all three lists. The boundaries of the park shield about 20 % of the unique land space of the Everglades.
From the Dry Tortugas, we’ll journey back north throughout the Gulf to Everglades City. This frontier group is nestled between Ten Thousand Islands Nationwide Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park. Together they contribute to the most important protected mangrove coastline in the western hemisphere. From Everglades Metropolis, you’ll be able to take airboat tours into the backwater creeks and sawgrass, or powerboat excursions by means of the labyrinth of mangrove islands between the estuary and the Gulf. Some on the mangrove islands could make iconic silhouettes at sunrise and sundown with a backdrop of watery wilderness extensive open to the Florida Keys and beyond. I love to see the Ten Thousand Islands from above, where you’ll find intricate patterns of islands and water that put the entire area in context.
For wildlife and panorama images within the Everglades, you possibly can’t go fallacious with the Shark Valley and Anhinga Trails. Driving east from Everglades Metropolis on U.S. Route 41—certainly one of my favorite roads with Huge Cypress National Protect on your left and Everglades Nationwide Park in your proper—the Shark Valley Visitor Middle is midway to Miami, close to the Miccosukee Indian outpost and airboat excursions. At Shark Valley, you’ll be able to hike, bike or journey a tram down a 7-mile trail straight into Shark River Slough. On a sunny day, there might be dozens of alligators to see up shut along the best way. At the finish of the trail, there’s a tall statement tower to climb for panoramic vistas of the “River of Grass.”
For wonderful chook images, you don’t need to stroll or experience quite as far. A collection of ponds and boardwalks close to the visitor middle is an ideal place to see iconic water birds like anhingas, cormorants, wood storks and quite a lot of egrets and herons. These birds are used to seeing individuals, so getting shut enough for a full-frame photograph isn’t troublesome. My photograph of a terrific blue heron in this article was taken there during an Everglades task for Smithsonian magazine.
Everglades Blue Heron, 2006. An ideal blue heron forages at nightfall in the Shark River Slough, the primary aquatic artery of Everglades Nationwide Park. Wading hen populations have declined by 90 % because the 1930s, primarily from loss or alteration of habitat. While some species continue to say no, Everglades restoration and continued habitat safety supply hope for partial recovery.
Closer to Miami, you’ll be able to enter Everglades Nationwide Park from the east close to Homestead. From there, the primary stop for fowl images must be the Anhinga Trail. Hen sightings can be greatest within the dry season, sometimes from January by means of Might, when much less water elsewhere in the Everglades helps focus birds and the fish they eat around deeper ponds near the customer centers.
The Everglades is the most important subtropical wetland in America and Florida’s best-known wilderness. With conservation areas resembling Massive Cypress Nationwide Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park and Picayune Strand State Forest, there are 4 million acres of contiguous public land combined with Everglades Nationwide Park. But the Everglades watershed is far larger still. The headwaters of the Everglades are near Orlando inside the boundaries of Disney World. The watershed encompasses almost half of the Florida peninsula and offers water for 9 million individuals.
Public lands alone will not be sufficient to guard the Everglades from suburban improvement that’s pushing out from urban cores to accommodate 1,000 new residents shifting to Florida day by day. Corridors for water and wildlife are needed to keep Everglades National Park related to its headwaters, and one essential piece of the conservation puzzle is the Florida cattle ranch. America’s first cattle and horses arrived in Florida with Ponce de Leon in 1521, and ranches embody almost 5 million acres of Florida right now. As a result of Florida ranches retain lots of forest and sometimes historic prairies, their habitat for wildlife may be nearly as good as public parks.
Econ Cowboys, 2013. Cowboys from the Yarborough family drive a herd via Little Huge Econ State Forest, which their family owned for generations earlier than promoting it to the Florida Division of Forestry. The Econlockhatchee River flows east of Orlando by way of the historic Yarborough Ranch to a confluence with the north-flowing St. Johns River. Cattle ranches comprise almost 6 million acres (or one-sixth) of Florida’s land mass. Because ranches are sometimes wonderful wildlife habitat, helping ranch house owners shield their properties by way of conservation easements and other instruments is important to protecting the Florida Wildlife Hall related.
Eternally Florida close to Kissimmee is one place to see and study historic ranches. Some of Florida’s greatest state parks and forests have been previously cattle ranches. The St. Johns River flows north from south of Orlando to the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville. Florida’s longest river and second-largest watershed subsequent to the Everglades, the upper St. Johns is essentially protected by a patchwork of public lands and private ranches. Considered one of my favourite places is Little Massive Econ State Forest, the place picturesque palms rise above the floodplain and line the waterways on the confluence the place the Econlockhatchee River meets the St. Johns. I like to recommend paddling and camping alongside this waterway that flows east from Orlando. You may see cowboys on horseback gathering herds along the banks.
Freshwater springs is perhaps Florida’s biggest hidden treasure. North Florida is claimed to have the very best concentration of freshwater springs on the earth. An ideal place to see them is along the Florida National Scenic Path in Ocala Nationwide Forest, where they provide pure water to the St. Johns. Or, further west, the Suwannee River and its tributaries are lined with springsheds, the place crystal clear water flows up from underground aquifers. The water is 72 levels yr round, refreshing in the summer and comparatively warm in the winter. Many springs present necessary warm-water refuges to migrating manatees.
Longleaf Pines, 2012. In a longleaf pine habitat seen here in Ocala National Forest, an open understory of sweeping wiregrass is maintained by frequent hearth. The pure variety of a wholesome longleaf pine forest may be corresponding to that of tropical rain forests, with more than 40 species per square meter. Defending and restoring longleaf pine forests is necessary for connecting the Florida Wildlife Hall.
Ocala Nationwide Forest can also be a implausible place to photograph longleaf pines. This forest sort once coated 90 million acres of the southeastern U.S. however was lowered by logging to only 3 million acres at this time. Teams like The Nature Conservancy and The Longleaf Alliance are working to restore longleaf to more of its historic range, which is important for regional wildlife corridors. Longleaf forests and savannahs are biodiversity hotspots, with species variety approaching that of tropical rainforests. When photographing pine forests, I take pleasure in using a average telephoto lens to compress the scene and give attention to the patterns the layers of timber and grasses current. In spring when the wiregrass is seeding, the bottom cowl dances with texture and depth. Different great locations to photograph longleaf pines are Apalachicola National Forest, Blackwater River State Forest, Eglin Air Pressure Base and Tall Timbers Analysis Middle.
The Suwannee River originates in Okefenokee Nationwide Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia and winds via historic longleaf country. I strongly advocate exploring its higher reaches, from Huge Shoals State Park, the place you’ll be able to photograph flowing rapids, upstream toward the Georgia Florida line. On Day 96 of the 2012 Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, that’s the place I photographed an Ogeechee tupelo tree in recent spring foliage reflecting over the darkish tannic waters oozing out of the Okefenokee. Within the dry season, when water is low, shallow white sand bars will colour the brown water orange. Carry a polarizing filter to scale back the reflection and improve saturation of vegetation and to help see by way of the water.
Ogeechee Tupelo, 2012. An Ogeechee Tupelo spreads its branches over a shallow sandbar colored orange by tannin-stained water flowing from the Okefenokee Swamp. The Suwannee River runs 240 miles from the Okefenokee Nationwide Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia via the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge to the Gulf of Mexico near Cedar Key.
As the Suwannee flows southwest, blue spring water mixes with the darkish tannic waters along the best way. Superior underwater photographs could be made where the 2 waters converge, in locations like Ginnie Springs or Manatee Springs State Park. After 240 miles, the Suwannee spreads out by means of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge into the Gulf of Mexico north of Cedar Key, which is a superb jumping off point for freshwater and saltwater adventures. Individuals working oyster beds within the shallows can make great subjects, as will flocks of white pelicans gathering in winter months.
This area around the Suwannee is called Florida’s Nature Coast. Almost 1 million acres and 160 miles of shoreline are shielded from north of Tampa to the Huge Bend south of Tallahassee. Chassahowitzka Nationwide Wildlife Refuge, Homosassa Springs State Park, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Rainbow Springs State Park, Aucilla River Wildlife Management Area and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge are just some of the superb locations to explore.
Aucilla River Delta, 2015. The St. Marks River meets the Gulf of Mexico at the edge of St. Marks Nationwide Wildlife Refuge, which protects almost 70,000 acres, including wintering grounds for endangered whooping cranes that migrate 1,117 miles from Wisconsin.
Through the cooler months, magical fog typically lingers over hotter springs and creeks, making for magical mild. On Day 10 of the 2015 Florida Wildlife Corridor Glades to Gulf Expedition, I set my digital camera on a tripod and used its intervalometer to capture a photograph of myself paddling off into the misty sunrise at Chassahowitzka.
Chassahowitzka Dawn, 2015. In the course of the Glades to Gulf Expedition, Carlton Ward paddles Crawford Creek, exploring a palm-studded tidal creek close to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, the southern reaches of Florida’s Nature Coast, which wraps the Gulf from north of Tampa towards Tallahassee and is protected by a mixture of state, federal and private land.
Additional west, the Nature Coast transitions to the Forgotten Coast close to the town of Apalachicola. This can be a charming base camp full with seafood eating places and cafes where the Apalachicola River flows by way of one million acres of protected land to satisfy the Gulf. Shrimp boats line the docks in a city the place 80 % of households still rely on Gulf fisheries for his or her livelihoods. From the pristine beaches of Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park and St. Vincent Nationwide Wildlife Refuge to oyster boats tonging within the shallows of Apalachicola Bay to large cypress timber lining the huge floodplain of the Apalachicola River, the challenge can be choosing which topics you need to discover first.
See more of Carlton Ward’s images at www.carltonward.com.