Despite the Wx – It Really Is Spring!

House Wren captured by Z 9 / 800f5.6AFS

As I watched the snow falling outside the window I hear the birds singing their brains out, looking at nesting sites and fighting for mates. Despite what the weather is doing, critters and the sun say it’s spring. It’s time to get the binoculars out and start being a wildlife detective looking for your next project. Nesting birds are a very rewarding subject. You can do it safely by doing some homework and testing now so you’re good to go once you find the nest. You might want to start by reading this nesting primer here on the website. You might continue it following what’s in that primer. Then go further picking up a copy of my book Captured. As long as you remember no photograph is worth sacrificing the welfare of a subject and can walk away when you see it’s not working, you can comeback with a story that when shared can make a difference. Cause despite the weather, it really is spring!

Tools of Specialization that Evolved

Snail Kite captured by Z 9 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x

The Snail Kite gives away in its name what it eats, snails. This highly specialized raptor eats just one thing, freshwater apple snails of Florida’s Central wetlands. It can snatch from the water and pop a snail out of its shell faster than a French Chef! Those talons & bill give it the ability to grasp the snail with great efficiency. The Snail Kite’s problem causing it to crash to just 64 individuals in the 80s is the loss of habitat and its food source. Then in 2004 a very destructive and evasive island apple snail came in. Bad for the environment, the island apple snail, the size of a tennis ball is prolific and has replaced the freshwater apple snail, the size of a ping pong ball. You might think that for a highly specialized predator like the Snail Kite this would be the last nail in its coffin. But the Snail Kite evolved in the matter of a decade with longer, stronger talons and longer mandible. So in the short term, the kite found a sudo solution for its own problem. Or did it? I guess only time will tell but in the meantime watching this mater of the wetlands is a joy as it uses its tools of specialization that evolved.


Wood Stork captured by Z 9 / 800AFS w/1.25x

The Wood Stock, also known as Flinthead is a large and at times awkward looking bird that was once near extinction. Hunted for its breeding plumes, it was placed on the Endangered Species list in 1984. Since then their numbers have steadily climbed so now they are about to be delisted. It’s this time of year when they are hard at work increasing their numbers even further. When there is enough water providing habitat for their prey fish they produce eggs. In drought years, they might not nest at all. This is a good year and they are quite busy creating some fun photo opps for the patient photographer!

Wood Stork captured by Z 9 / 800AFS w/1.25x

Patience at the rockery is required as a majority of the time they are either just standing or sitting on the nest. At the same time, being all white and nesting in live tress, you gotta have the right light or you just come back with yuck. Luckily the male spends some time in the evening gathering and delivering sticks to the female for the nest. With this knowledge, you want to set yourself up so you can pan with the incoming male watching for the best background. Then the challenge is not just panning but having a shooting path when the male gets to the nest. That’s because the male you’re panning with might not go to the nest you can see, it might be to one hidden in another part of the tree. It is quite a bit of fun. And if it’s a really good evening the male gets rewarded by the female when it makes its deliver. That birds and the bee thing. Just need an active rockery, great light and that male incoming!

Wood Stork captured by Z 9 / 800AFS w/1.25x

It Takes a Bridge?!

Florida Brown Pelican captured by Z 9 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x

Photographing birds in flight is such a challenge and such fun you just can’t help but go at it at every chance. There are some really, really fine images out there raising the bar as it should. So how do you get that flight shot you might want to share? There are some elements you need to incorporate to make the uncommon from the common. Let’s remove sharp as one of those elements because that’s mandatory, it’s gotta be sharp. We can do the same with exposure, both are given as a being present in the photo. So then what else?

The two elements you can have “control” over are light and background. And here is where your passion and talent can shine. The obvious element you need are the birds and when going for flight shots its helps that you have a predictable flight path. For example, birds flying into a rookery or a bird feeder. You need more than one flight in order to prefect every part of the photographic process. For this example I had food working for me. The Pelicans were feeding on a school of bait fish between Sunrise Bridge and North Fishing Pier in Florida. It’s a favorite haunt of mine and this evening the opportunity presented a very uncommon photo.

So evening, there is the light component for creating an uncommon photo. The background is the water which is common but what was reflecting this evening was not. The combination of clouds, fog, light and construction on the bride made an incredible pallet of colors. You can see below on the left the light quality on the pelican, it’s very nice light. You can see on the right the background which when in focus is not so nice. But when the pelicans took advantage of the ground effect and glided effortlessly over the water is when the combination of all the elements came together. The last element added to the photo was a slow shutter speed. It was 1/50 so there was a feel of “speed” to the photo. And with that, the photo was made. Keep an open mind as you follow your passion for bird photography. Look for the patterns, the elements and try it all when it makes sense. You never know when it all comes together even when it take a bridge.


Sanderling captured by Z 9 / 800AFS

We owe a lot to Sanderlings, they keep chasing the sea back into its place. Laying down in the sand using a panning plate to see their world from their point of view, the waves appear to be a tsunami. There are times when watching these LBJs I forget to take their photo as I so get into what they are doing. Take this individual. Just seconds after this photo was taken it did a complete 180, ran less then a foot, reached down and plucked a little worm like critter from the wet sand and sucked it down. How did it know it was there? It come in with the tsunami? Did it make some noise? How with all the chaos of the crashing waves did it find a meal? It’s just amazing how such a little critter in what appears to be a brutal world goes about life with such glee, always dealing with a tsunami!

Flight is a Beautiful Thing!

Great Egret captured by Z 9 / 800AFS

Venice Rookery, FL is a very special place where new life is celebrated every spring. Courtship of the herons and egrets is part of the excitement, eggs and nestlings is some more but the best part is the unscripted. Whether vying for platform space or spouse attention, all the bird species present so some type of display. Great Egrets seem to have as part of their theatrics flight chases and typically it’s just a couple that constantly go at it. So it was yesterday at the Venice Rookery. Once I saw the two who wanted to challenge each other in the air, I followed them as they postured with my finger on the shutter release for when they took to the air. Then I would follow the chasing egret in the viewfinder. Then it was simple panning with that one individual, shooting when the background looked good. And in that split 1/1200 the camera captured that elegance that flight is a beautiful thing.

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