Just a few favorites of mine. No guarantees you'll have the same success, but your overall chances are better than, say, downtown Manhattan.
Feel free to drop me a line for more specific directions, or to let me know your own favorites. I'm always looking for new areas to try out. Also note that, accompanying many images in the galleries, I've included a Google Earth placemark that denotes the location where the image was taken (usually within a few meters.)
But wherever you go, please remember
to respect the area. Dispose of trash properly, don't damage the landscape,
and especially avoid stressing the animals.
Falls Lake/Neuse River Mouth, just north of Raleigh, NC — Okay, they're seven miles from where I used to live, so convenience counted for a lot. But a great location for hiking and serene water shots, and halfway decent for wildlife. There's hiking trails off Raven Ridge road, and a canoe access off Falls of the Neuse road. Go early.
Jordan Lake, near Pittsboro and Chapel Hill, NC — A popular weekend getaway, it's still large enough and has enough access areas to provide secluded lake and wildlife photo opportunities. Long glass may get you bald eagles and osprey, and hiking may turn up anything. Access/rentals for canoes and kayaks, some swimming areas, and fed by numerous streams.
North Carolina Zoological Park, Asheboro, NC — An excellent zoo, and the best one I've been in, especially for natural-looking surroundings. It doesn't take much effort to keep all evidence of manmade objects out of the frame for most exhibits. Be prepared to walk, the place is huge. They're also tripod friendly almost throughout (use sense, you'll be fine). Right now, exhibits are in two sections, Africa and North America.
Outer Banks, NC — The coastal barrier islands. If you're a beach person, you'll love the area. Not overly developed at all, very quiet and laid back. Places to stay the entire length, car access throughout most of the area. Seagulls, pelicans, and sandpipers abound, luck may net you dolphins, osprey, and there's rumors of nutria (thirty-pound gerbils, no, I'm not kidding). And of course, five lighthouses and three aquariums. Check out the areas just inland as well, since there's several different Wildlife Refuges on the coast, and the coastal plains get very rustic and rural. Be ready to clean lenses frequently from salt spray, anywhere near the ocean.
Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, just north of Cape Canaveral, Florida — A big area of marshland with both fresh and saltwater channels, and a wide variety of waterfowl at any given time. Also patches of scrub forest and tidal flats. Opportunities for sighting alligators, bobcats, feral pigs, manatees, and tortoises as well.
South Florida/Everglades — Kinda broad, but there's so many good places to take pictures. Excellent for waterfowl of all varieties, and alligators, naturally. Among the many great areas are J.N. 'Ding' Darling NWR on Sanibel Island, Audubon Society Corkscrew Swamp, Alligator River NWR, and Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Boynton Beach. Go a little north on the gulf coast to Audubon Society Venice Rookery as well, only if you have 300mm glass or better, but an astounding place. Avoid Miami. At all costs.
Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, Tavernier, FL — Okay, I used to rehabilitate, so I'm prejudiced. But there's tons of opportunities here, especially since many of the birds hang around after release for free food. And more natural surroundings than you might expect. Be sure to wander along the boardwalks/trails to the sound. Also, since they run strictly on individual donations and an occasional grant (our government does not put money into wildlife), drop a few dollars in the donation jars while you're there.
Sylvan Heights Bird Park , Scotland Neck, NC — Begun as a breeding center for threatened and endangered waterfowl, it soon expanded into a nature park and visitor's center, with myriad avian species from around the world. Aim for the early spring when breeding plumage is at its finest.
Callaway Gardens, near La Grange, GA — Great for plant/flower lovers, and an outstanding butterfly house, bring fast film and/or a steady hand, but definitely a macro area. Also check out the butterfly house in the Museum of Life & Science, Durham, NC. At neither one of these is a tripod welcome.
Mountain Areas of north Georgia and western North Carolina — Wooded hills and valleys, secluded lakes, and scads of waterfalls. Be ready to hike up some steep paths. Especially scenic in the fall, but be warned, the leaves turn a bit sooner there than in surrounding areas, possibly because of the altitude or plentiful water, I don't know. Another plus is that cellphones usually don't work! For time-exposure shots of running water, both Neutral Density and warming filters might come in handy.