Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
The Venice Rookery is an excellent place to photograph water birds. It is in
the city of Venice on the west coast of Florida, just south of Tampa and
cover photo of
Arthur Morris'The Art of Bird
Photography, The Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques was shot
there. So was the
George Lepp'sBeyond the Basics (Volume
What is special about the Venice Rookery is that it is located in a city.
Unless you live in Florida, obviously you still need to travel to get there, but
this photogenic location is not in some remote area that is hard to reach. The
rookery is actually a small island in the middle of a small lake. The lake forms
a natural barrier such that the island is a safe place for the birds to nest.
Photography is done from lakeshore.
Camera Equipment and Lighting
One problem with photography at the Venice Rookery is that we need to shoot
across the lake from a distance. Therefore, a long lens such as a 500mm or 600mm,
perhaps with teleconvertors, is a must to achieve frame-filling images. Those
cover images by Arthur Morris and George Lepp were shot with 800mm and 600mm
lenses respectively. My great egret and anhinga images that accompany this
article are both full-frame scans from slides taken with a 500mm/f4 lens with a
1.4x teleconvertor for the equivalent of 700mm. There is still room for some
cropping in both images. Therefore, those whose longest lens is 400mm or shorter
may find it a bit frustrating there. However, the birds will fly in and out of
the rookery. Therefore, it is possible to shoot "in flight" images with a shorter
lens as the birds approach lakeshore.
As usual, the best time of the day to photograph is early morning and late
afternoon when the bird are most active and the light is at its best. I prefer to
visit the Venice Rookery in the morning as the sunlight illuminates the entire
side of the rookery that faces the shore where photographers can set up their
equipment. In the afternoon, only a corner of the rookery is under direct
sunlight. However, there are good opportunities for backlit shots. Also keep in
mind that there are buildings and overhead power lines around the lake. We need
to be careful not to unintentionally include those distracting elements in the
How to Get There
The Venice Rookery is on Route 41 a short block north of Jacaranda Boulevard.
The entrance road is an Annex between a Florida Highway Patrol (police) building
and the Sarasota County Courthouse.
To reach the Venice Rookery from Interstate 75, take exit #35 to Jacaranda
Boulevard. Travel southwest for about five miles (pass Venice Avenue, Center
Road, Indian Hills, Skiar and Woodmere) and turn right onto Route 41 heading
north. As soon as you complete that right turn, get into the left lane and make
the first left turn. You'll enter a small street called the Annex between the
Highway Patrol building and the courthouse. Proceed for several hundred feet and
the rookery will be on the right side. Parking is in an open lot on the left.
When to Visit
Nature photography is seasonal. While there are birds at the Venice Rookery
year round, the best time to photograph there is from winter to early spring. In
particular, during February and March, most birds will have their mating plumage
on. Some birds will display their courtship ritual while some others may be
feeding little chicks, thus providing excellent photo opportunities. By early
summer, most chicks will be grown. The weather gets hot and humid. Worse yet,
that area will have a lot of mosquitoes. It becomes uncomfortable to visit
My images accompanying this article were all taken at the Venice Rookery in
late February 1998.