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The Venice Rookery, Florida

by Shun Cheung, 1999

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 Sarasota. The cover photo of Arthur Morris' The Art of Bird Photography, The Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques was shot there. So was the cover of George Lepp's Beyond the Basics (Volume I).

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 background. 

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 there.

My images accompanying this article were all taken at the Venice Rookery in late February 1998.

Article and Photographs © Copyright 1998/1999 Shun Cheung

You can contact the author via e-mail at shun@worldnet.att.net

Article created 1999

Readers' Comments

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M .... , September 10, 2000; 08:57 P.M.

I've lived in Venice, FL since November of 98, and didn't discover the Rookery til a full year later. Tho' it's not the "Season" for birding, I've still enjoyed driving by during the summer months just to witness the stark contrast of birding frenzy there a mere five or so months ago.

Apart from my (almost daily) beach walks on Caspersan, The Rookery is a nice respite for me to take a book and a chair and enjoy the quiet, or strike up a conversation from people all over the world who've come to view Florida birding (in season) at it's finest.

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