Posts tagged ‘Bird Photography’

Florida Part 2: Beach Life

Fort Myers Beach panorama SMALLFLORIDA. I wish I could post the full-size photo of this panorama combining 4 images in Photoshop…It is 45 inches long! …and very sharp. Taken during a brief appearance of the sun near sunset along Fort Myers Beach. Handheld with the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.

American Oystercatcher stare Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3995 - Version 2
American Oystercatcher preening Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_4000 - Version 2
American Oystercatcher fluffing Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_4003 - Version 2The above images were just “G&G” images for me (“grab-and-go”)…I was walking the Estero Beach Lagoon when I saw these AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHERS lolling about. I didn’t put much effort into stalking them or even setting up my tripod because the light was FLAT and the only background was blah, colorless white water. Not a very interesting background. BUT when I got home and looked at these on the computer, I knew that they were my best photos of the trip. I really like the monochromatic water background…It is a nice contrast to the brown-black and orange of the oystercatcher. By the way, yes, oystercatchers do “catch” and eat oysters! (and many other bivalves including mussels and clams)

Frigatebirds 1 composite SMALLWhat a great name!…MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD. For me the name conjures up visions of the Caribbean and the tall ships that plied these waters centuries ago. An early naturalist likely noted that the birds often came to rest on the masts of these vessels far from any land and named them “frigate birds.” These are HUGE seabirds that effortlessly float in the sky, gliding on stiff Caribbean winds, wings that span nearly EIGHT FEET(!) firmly set. They can glide like this for HOURS, never once flapping their wings. You’ve probably seen them in some nature program before…They are the birds with the red air sacs on their throat that they inflate like a balloon during breeding and courtship. But on this trip I only managed a few flight silhouettes, distinctive as they are, under gray sky conditions. But I decided to get creative and combine 5 images of the same bird into one, making my own flock of five flying frigatebirds (say that 3-times fast!). A dramatic increase in contrast helped the final image pop.

Great Egret breeding face Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3838In the North Woods of Minnesota, we rarely get to see a Great Egret (found south in the state) and NEVER get to see them with their breeding plumage including their green facial skin. Snuck up on this guy at Estero Beach Lagoon.

Sandwich Tern flying Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3538SANDWICH TERNS always remind me of my birding friends Parker Backstrom and Don Kienholz. Back in the mid 80s they were birding the Duluth Port Terminal on a gray, rainy, foggy May day when they spotted a strange tern with a yellow-tipped bill. It was a very-far-from-home Sandwich Tern, and a first state record for Minnesota! Dirt common in Florida as they hunt (fish) the ocean shorelines for small fish, plunging beak-first into the water.

Least Tern flying Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3581LEAST TERN is the smallest and cutest tern in North America. I completely associate it with the Gulf Coast but amazingly, they also nest on braided, sandbar stretches of the Upper Missouri River in South Dakota (only an hour SW of the MN border), North Dakota and Montana.

Snowy Egret high key Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3824
Snowy Egret stalking beach Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3601SNOWY EGRET stalks critters along a busy Fort Myers beach. I didn’t think much of either of these photos UNTIL I made it a “HIGH-KEY” image, overexposing, and even blowing out completely the whites. I like the monochromatic effect and the contrasting black bill, legs and yellow feet.

Brown Pelican Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3636Who doesn’t love pelicans? And BROWN PELICANS are the native pelican in Florida. This adult was lazily flying along the beach, but would then suddenly plunge head-first into the surf and more often than not, come up with a fish in its pouch.

Common Ground-Dove Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3807COMMON GROUND-DOVES, like many of North America’s doves and pigeons, are taken for granted. But when you really study them, many have quite beautiful plumages, some with delicate scaling and subtle iridescence. This dove is native to the southern fringe of the U.S. from South Carolina to Florida to Texas, Arizona and S. California. When it flies, it reveals its stunning rusty red underwings.

Cicindela hamata lacerata Tiger Beetle Estero Beach Lagoon Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3863
Cicindela hamata lacerata Tiger Beetle Estero Beach Lagoon Fort Myers Beach FL IMG_3866A lifer TIGER BEETLE! This beach tiger was a new one for me—Cicindela hamata lacerata. I love tiger beetles! Fast and furious, they pursue insect victims, pouncing on them in lightning fast attacks. And it really helps to be colored like the sand you hunt on.

Wilson's Plover Fort Myers Beach FLFunny story…WILSON’S PLOVER is a sand-colored shorebird restricted to the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, Virginia to Florida to Texas, BUT I’d just seen one the week before on Minnesota’s own version of an ocean beach—Duluth’s Park Point on Lake Superior. My friend Karl Bardon had found this lost wanderer, only Minnesota’s THIRD state record. Interestingly, I myself had found Wisconsin’s FIRST STATE RECORD of this species back in 2004(?) and just a few miles from here on Wisconsin Point. Anyway, good to see a Wilson’s in its native habitat for a change!

[All images taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens handheld]

Subzero Swans: Shooting with Sparky video

Trumpeter Swans 2 landing backlit sepia Monticello MN IMG_0073484

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073480
Heading north from my parent’s home I decided to stop by Monticello, Minnesota to photograph Trumpeter Swans wintering on the Mississippi River. Tucked into a suburban neighborhood on a cul-de-sac is a tiny lot-sized city park. Hundreds of swans winter here. The attractions for the swans are the Mississippi kept open by the discharge of a nuclear power plant and cracked corn. Sheila the Swan Lady began feeding a handful of swans years ago…and word got around the swan world. Now over 1500 Trumpeters winter here! Sheila has passed away, but her husband carries on, scattering hundreds of pounds of corn each day. Please put a few bucks in the donation box at the park to help support this feeding project.

It was cold…zero degrees…and I was plenty early, 45 minutes before sunrise. While dancing around to keep my feet warm, I set up my heavy tripod and got to work. You must stay behind a split rail fence so you are forced to shoot down on the subjects. Not the best angle. Eye level almost always gives animal images more impact. But occasionally swans will fly in at eye level. As the morning progresses, there is behavior and birds everywhere…a swan battle here, wing-flapping there, a flock of Goldeneyes rocketing past, a Bald Eagle overhead, a lamentation of swans flying in (yes…lamentation!). It is hard to swing the tripod head around fast enough to catch all the action.

Trumpeter Swan battle Monticello MN IMG_0073397

As the sun rose the light turned the river steam a very nice gold, silhouetting swans and trees. Several small flocks were flying by. I set Shutter Priority to 1/60 of a second and panned at as they flew past. I’ve had great luck with this on previous trips. But today I preferred my 1/1000 of a second motion-stopping images…Swan feathers translucent and back lit against the blue river.

Trumpeter Swans 2 flying backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073469

Trumpeter Swans 3 landing backlit Monticello MN IMG_0073476

The noise…hundreds of Trumpeters trumpeting…has to be experienced to be believed. It is the highlight of any visit. And to me personally, the whole experience is unbelievable. I never would have believed this day would come. When I was in high school in the late 70s/early 80s, Trumpeter Swans were extirpated from Minnesota, which had not had a breeding pair since 1885. I remember seeing some captive Trumpeters at Elm Creek Park Reserve. Then the MN DNR and began a reintroduction program, bringing in eggs from South Dakota, Montana and Alaska. In 1987, 21 2-year old swans were released at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Becker County. Today, the Minnesota population is over 2400 swans. An amazing success story.

More and more swans arrived, flying in towards the feeding area. But by now the light was getting “hot” and their white sunlit feathers were blowing out. The histogram was clipped on the white side. Not good. I packed up the gear and just enjoyed the cacophony of trumpeting Trumpeter Swans before heading home. Like they say, or if they don’t say it somebody should, “Any day shooting is better than a day in the office.”

Tips for shooting swans
1. Get there early! White swans in sunlight equals difficult exposures. Feathers tend to blow out to detailless white. I would even suggest getting there 30 minutes before sunrise. Any “steam” on the water may light up to a beautiful yellow-orange when the sun first peeks over the horizon.
2. Choose a lens that will bring the action closer but leave enough breathing room around the bird so sudden wing-stretching or flapping or fights will not leave part of a wing out of the frame. A 400mm on a crop-sensor camera works well as would a 500mm on a full-frame camera. But even a 300mm lens can yield very nice images. I also like to use my 70-200mm for some “bird in landscape” shots.
3. To stop the action, set your camera to Shutter Priority 1/1000 of a second and your ISO to Auto (if you have this feature).
4. Experiment! Pan with swimming birds as well as flying birds…1/80 to 1/60 second work best. Try some fill flash. Zoom. Use a wide angle lens for an “animal in the landscape” shot.

Trumpeter Swans flying blur panning Monticello MN IMG_0073429

Resources:
Trumpeter Swans at Monticello, Minnesota: Hundreds of Trumpeters, Canada Geese and ducks winter along the Mississippi River in Monticello, Minnesota. A tiny city park buried in a suburban neighborhood is access to the swans. Visit http://www.MonticelloChamber.com for more info and a downloadable pdf brochure.

Trumpeter Swan checking on young one Monticello MN IMG_0073411

All photos taken with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.
Flight shots taken at 1/1000 second on Shutter Priority with auto ISO

Mallard albino Monticello MN IMG_0073451Leucistic Mallard blends in well with the white adult Trumpeters and gray and white juveniles.

Shooting with Sparky Video: Wisconsin Point Shorebirds & Warblers (& flies!)


Sanderling in mainly white winter plumage on Wisconsin Point, Lake Superior

In this episode of Shooting with Sparky we travel to Wisconsin Point to photograph migrating shorebirds and warblers. In the video you’ll see that I find a cooperative pair of Sanderlings, a small shorebird that commonly winters on the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf Coasts but only breeds in the farthest reaches of Arctic Canada and Greenland. Flocks stop off to feed on the beaches of Lake Superior on their way North in late spring. Note that one of the Sanderlings has very white feathers (winter plumage) and the other has more reddish-brown feathers (getting its breeding plumage). The whiter one seems to have only one functioning leg, but his buddy won’t abandon him and sticks close. I was able to crawl through the sand to get some frame-filling shots and then put it in reverse and leave them foraging on the beach surfline without flushing them…The goal of all wildlife photographers; leave your subject as you found them. Enjoy the video!

Watch this 3-minute video to see just how glamorous wildlife photography really is!


Colorado Potato Beetle


Gray Catbird


Sanderling fluffing its feathers


Sanderling getting its reddish breeding plumage

All with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens; Most at ISO 200, f7.1 at 1/250 with fill flash from Canon 430ex; most handheld and braced on binoculars.

Iceland Summer 4—Puffins!


Sure, I’d seen puffins before…but not ATLANTIC Puffins! In Alaska I’d had decent looks at Horned Puffins and Tufted Puffins…and even a Bald Eagle carrying a puffin he’d snagged off a cliff face! (most folks cringed at this but I thought it was quite cool). I was once booked on a boat out of Bar Harbor, Maine to find these “sea parrots” but we were fogged out. So we were both very excited to see Atlantic Puffins…In fact, 60 percent of the world’s population of this species breeds in Iceland.

Puffins are interesting birds. Sexually mature at 4 to 5 years old, the males excavate a burrow atop cliffs. Our guide Magda said some young bachelor males evidently are not ready to mate as they keep working on their burrows for years. A 30-year old puffin is not unheard of.

Puffins can easily dive to depths of 200 feet, surfacing and bringing back the tiny fish with a misleading name “sand eel.” They often arrive back at the nest burrow with several (up to twelve) sand eels in their beak…and most are alternating head and tail. How do they do it? Underwater they are able to hold fish against their palate with their tongue and still be able to use their beak to catch more fish.

After being rained out the day before, we were thrilled that the weather cleared and we could go on the Ingolfshofdi tour. But in typical Icelandic fashion, the whole venture was an adventure. We were all loaded into a haywagon and told to hold on! Pulled by a farm tractor we bounced our way across the land and into the ocean! It could have been 200 feet deep for all I knew, but it was just a couple inches of water covering a tidal flat.

Once we reached the headland part-time island (depending on the tide) we climbed a steep black sand dune to the top. Once there we had to negotiate a gauntlet of nesting Great Skuas who’d just as soon pluck your eyes out. The Germans didn’t understand Magda’s english instructions of “stay in a tight group and they won’t bother you,” and so were promptly attacked.

This is Magda our tractor driver and tour leader. She and her family are one of seven families that are allowed to collect eggs (puffins and murres) and harvest puffins for subsistence…Yes, Icelanders do eat puffins! How they gather the eggs and birds is an interesting story. One person is lowered down the cliff face on a rope while seven or so others anchor the other end. Magda’s husband is a smaller guy (smaller than her!) and so is the unlucky (lucky?) one on the seaward end of the rope. By having humans anchoring the rope instead of a metal post (no trees on this island), they can maneuver the collector across the face of the cliff to the nests. The number of eggs collected is controlled and most will lay eggs to replace missing ones. Also, they only harvest non-reproducing younger puffins…Magda said with experience you can tell them from older birds. Here Magda holds a puffin net. She said that her family was at the end of their “egg season,” eating hundreds of eggs in a month or so.
In fact, I tried to find a restaurant that served puffin, but to no avail…I’ve eaten Minke Whale in Norway, roadkill Spruce Grouse, and Sandhill Crane so I thought I’d add Atlantic Puffin to the list!

Bosque del Apache

Our first night at Bosque was a hum-dinger! Clouds in the west created spectacular color as the cranes came in to roost.