Love is in the air at the Venice Rookery. The birds (and the bees) are there doing the thing they are so famous for, and you can take pictures of it! Seriously, though, the Venice Rookery is an ideal spot to photograph birds mating, building their nests, fighting for territory and feeding their chicks. It's a requisite for bird photographers, and sheer delight for the rest of us.
A rookery is a breeding ground for certain birds and animals. At the Venice Rookery, you'll see snowy egret, great egret, anhinga, great blue heron, tricolor heron, night heron, and the like. Active during the months from November to April, the birds are most photogenic showing their breeding colors in February and March.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Venice Rookery is located in a Sarasota County park within the city of Venice, Florida, about half way between Tampa and Fort Myers on Florida's west coast. It is monitored by the Venice chapter of the Audubon Society. To get to the Rookery, take I-75 to Jacaranda Boulevard (Exit 193). Go right (north) on US Highway 41 until you see the State Highway Patrol Office located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail. Turn left just past the Office, as if you were going there, but instead follow the road all of the way back until you reach the park in about a mile. Parking is to your left. It is free, plentiful and convenient to the Rookery on your right. There is no entrance fee.
The Venice Rookery itself is a small island in a lake, which forms a natural barrier. The island is full of small trees and bushes where the birds build their nests. They fly to surrounding areas for the good nest-building sticks and food but soon return, giving plenty of opportunities for flight shots. When the chicks are born, you will view the wonders of nature as the parents work together to feed them. You also get to see some strange behavior when the anhinga chicks stick their heads all of the way down the throats of their parents to get food.
HOW TO GET YOUR BEST SHOTS
The best photography can be had during the morning light, when the sun is over your shoulder. The birds also tend to be more active in the morning. While you can hike around the perimeter of the pond for the afternoon light, the photography access is limited and difficult. Instead, stay on the shore next to the parking lot for dramatic silhouette shots in the afternoon.
You don't need to worry about a blind at any time because the birds have become habituated to people, who are separated from the nests by the pond. All you need to do is stand on the shore along with the other photographers and birders, and fire away. Although the area is small, it hosts a variety and a tremendous amount of bird activity. For the best shots, you'll need big glass of 500mm or more to photograph the birds on the island, especially the chicks. You can get by with less for the flight shots or for the few times that the birds get close to shore.
Discover the place where some of the greatest bird photographers go. If you have big glass, or just want to watch tons of great bird activity in one place that is easy to get to, the Venice Rookery is the spot for you.
The park amenities are minimal. It consists of the parking lot, the pond and portable toilets. There are no food services or attendants. However, because the Rookery is in the town of Venice, there are plenty of facilities close by. A gas station with a mini-mart full of vital snacks is across the street from the Highway Patrol Office. Other restaurants and facilities can be found on US Highway 41, which is a main access road through the city. Some options are Applebee's Neighborhood Grill (4329 Tamiami Trail S.), Bob Evans Restaurant (4080 Tamiami Trail) and the Alpine Steak House (4520 S. Tamiami Trail).
Because the Rookery is in the city, there are plenty of lodging options. Make your reservations in advance, especially during the spring break weeks. The entire west coast of Florida is a hot spot during that time. If you don't make your plans in advance, you may have to drive for hours to find a place to stay. Some options are the Days Inn (two miles away) http://www.daysinnvenice.com/, the Motel 6 (4 miles away) http://www.motel6.com/reservations/motel_detail.asp?MotelId=0364&state=FL&full=Florida&city=Venice, the Best Western Ambassador Suites (4 miles away) http://www.bestwesternflorida.com/details.cfm, and the Holiday Inn (4.5 miles away) http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/hi/1/en/hd/srqvn?irs=null.
The area is not very well shaded, so bring your sun block lotion and a wide-brimmed hat. You also may want to bring a lawn chair to take a quick break and snacks to keep you shooting throughout the morning hours. The photographic opportunities are so great; you don't want to waste time with extraneous items.
Another bonus of the Venice Rookery is its close proximity to many other prime places for bird photography. They include the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island http://dingdarling.fws.gov/, the Six Mile Cypress Slough in Ft. Myers http://www.captiva.com/stateparks/sixmilecypress.htm, the Corkscrew Swamp Preserve in Naples http://www.captiva.com/stateparks/corkscrew.htm, and Ft. Desoto Park in Tierra Verde http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_Ft_DeSoto.htm. All of these locations are so great for bird photography, they deserve their own article.
Copyright 2005 Carolyn E. Wright
--- ABOUT THE AUTHOR ---
Carolyn Wright is a professional photographer with an active portrait, event and nature photography business. Shooting for 25 years, her award-winning images have been used in books and corporate marketing materials. Her wildlife photos will be included in the upcoming book, "Captivating Wildlife - Images from the Top Ten Emerging Wildlife Photographers" by Scott Bourne and David Middleton. She also is working with Scott Bourne on "Wolfscapes," a photo book documenting the beauty and strength of wolves. Her wildlife images can be viewed at http://www.vividwildlife.com..
On the faculty of Olympic Mountain School of Photography, Carolyn's passion is enhanced when teaching photography. She enjoys writing and speaking on the subject, as well, and is a regular columnist for PhotoFocus, an online magazine for serious photographers.