Photographing Birds in Jacksonville in the Winter

A group of White Ibis at Riverside Park in Jacksonville, FL.
A group of White Ibis at Riverside Park in Jacksonville, FL.

In the winter, many birds migrate out of the northeast US, where I live, to warmer climes. Some go as far as South America, but many overwinter in Florida, making that state a haven for bird photographers. And a nice warm get away from the snow, ice and cold of home.

In December of last year, I went to Jacksonville, Florida, to spend the Christmas holidays with a family member. Prior to heading south, while researching on the internet, I learned that there are quite a number of birds that can be found overwintering in and around Jacksonville.

A pair of Anhinga, perched on a log, with wings outstretched, drying their feathers. 1/60 sec., f/5.6, 300mm, ISO 1000
A pair of Anhinga, drying their feathers. 1/60 sec., f5.6, 300mm, ISO 1000

In addition to checking ebird hotspots, I found a website, Jacksonville Birding, where Thomas Rohtsalu, a passionate local photographer, records and writes about the different birds he’s seen in the Jacksonville area. He also has a YouTube channel. The photographers who are out visiting local parks and wetlands every week are a terrific source of information and will often point you towards some lesser-known places.

The first place I went was Riverside Park, an 11.4-acre public park located in the heart of Riverside, an historic neighborhoods near downtown Jacksonville, Florida. It is the second oldest park in the city. In addition to a basketball court, playground equipment, picnic tables, and benches, the park includes two large ponds, which attract a variety of birds.

A pair of Muscovy Ducks
I first noticed these Muscovy Ducks close to the walkway. 1/60 sec. f/5.3 210mm ISO 800.

Here, in and around one of the ponds, I found a number of interesting birds and took the opportunity to do some photography with my D7100 camera.

Juvenile White Ibis
I noticed this bird but couldn’t figure out what it was. Later, I checked the Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and found it was a juvenile White Ibis. 1/60 sec. f/5.6 300mm ISO 1100.

The main pond was filled with birds that day, and I had a chance to take many photos of birds.

Heron 1/60 sec. f/5.6 300mm ISO 1400
Heron 1/60 sec. f/5.6 300mm ISO 1400
A Sleepy Goose floating on the water 1/200 sec. f/5.6 260mm ISO 800
A Sleepy Goose 1/200 sec. f/5.6 260mm ISO 800

Jacksonville is only a short drive from many beaches, of which Vilano Beach became my favorite. I was told that, in winter, there is a possibility of seeing whales from the shore. I tried my best, going to beach early in the morning, hoping to see some and at the same time get a chance to see the sun rising.

Snowy Egret walking through shallow water. 1/160 sec. f/5.6 300mm ISO 800
Snowy Egret on the prowl. 1/160 sec. f/5.6 300mm ISO 800

While driving to Little Talbot State park, we stopped at Mayport, Florida. We were told that there was a high possibility of seeing Pelicans there. Fortunately, we could see few of them. I could only photograph the closest ones using my 300mm lens.

Pelican 1/500 sec. f/5.6 300mm ISO 320
Pelican 1/500 sec. f/5.6 300mm ISO 320

Florida in winter is on every bird photographer’s bucket list, and for good reason. But you don’t have to go to obscure, off-the-beaten-path locations to find them. Even parks in major cities, like Jacksonville, offer a colorful, interesting assortment of birds.

Jaganadha “Sastry” Karra was born in India, but left when he was 24 years old. For the past 27 years, he’s worked as an IT professional, and has been living in New Jersey since 2004.

During his spare time, he goes outdoors and takes nature photos, especially waterfalls. Along with his wife (who loves hiking), they go to many nearby state parks where he can experiment with different compositions. In the summer, when his friends play cricket, he’s been experimenting with sports photography. Find him on instagram at #sastrykarra, where he posts most of his pictures. On Facebook, he’s active in some photography forums, like NANPA. “Maybe I’ll see you there!” he says.