While I treasure a close-up of each species of bird in its exquisite detail, and I get excited about a more rare capture of a bird in flight, the trifecta of wildlife photography thrills for me is to witness a drama between animals — the rare sighting that leaps beyond good color, detail and composition to tell a story.
Such was my luck late one afternoon on Sanibel Island in February. So far the visit to J.D. Ding Darling Nature Preserve had been pretty uneventful, and I was apologizing to my friend Mary who accompanied me. We had planned our trip to coincide with low tide to observe the large birds feeding, but few white pelicans or roseate spoonbills were in sight.
Here is how the action unfolded: We set up my tripod between the road and the water’s edge to observe for awhile when a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron emerged from the brush. About 4 onlookers pointed and whispered to each other as it paused in the gentle afternoon light. At Ding Darling, most bird watchers are quiet and respectful of wildlife.)
This heron took graceful giant strides, and within a few minutes, it had grabbed a crab in its beak and held it up in the light right in front of us. I had to adjust my 150-600mm zoom lens to 400mm to see the entire bird in the frame, and I could not believe my luck with the beautiful light and the chance to witness the scene.
We quietly contained our amazement (oh my God!) as the heron shook and stabbed the crab til its legs and claws came off and the prey was manageable to go down the hatch, right in front of us. I have numerous photos of this drama, and I will share them with you in the next few blog posts.
I’m now grateful that I saved this series of wildlife photos for this quiet time we are all experiencing now. Please share this blog with your friends who may enjoy it too.
This Great White Egret strode purposefully across my path at the Naples Botanical Garden. I squatted down low and focused my camera on his back-lit body, hoping to capture some action. As both the egret and I followed our instincts, we were both rewarded. Catching a wriggling lizard in its beak, the great egret found dinner, and I got my image of the day.
During the Covid-19 pandemic when our mobility is suddenly limited, I think about the enviable mobility of the birds around us. Here in Florida, we often see brown pelicans soaring through the sky and flying low across the Gulf of Mexico. For birds, mobility equals escape from danger, or the slightest perception of danger. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could fly away from the virus that threatens our health right now?
Pelicans are fun to watch. They fly in V-shaped formations with numbers ranging from 3 to 20 or more. They are silent, and they never bother people, given us the impression that they are gentle creatures.
When they forage for fish, they fly close to the surface of the water and then make a steep climb and nosedive to stun the fish with their beaks. Then, they scoop up the fish and a gallon or more of water with their stretchy pouch. Keep watching to see them tip up the beak and swallow the fish whole.
The first clue to the unfolding scene of predators and prey was the Bald Eagle with fresh blood on its white feathers. Our group of four photographers pulled off the road in Jackson Hole to study what was happening on this snow covered hillside.
Soon, we identified two bald eagles and a golden eagle perched on boulders. The golden eagle was much larger than the Bald Eagle, but as the scene appears compressed though the 600mm lens, you can’t see the size difference in the photo.
Yes, with binoculars we spotted a bloody carcass between the boulders with a magpie (black and white bird common to the mountainous ecosystem) currently picking at the carcass. The eagles must have had their fill.
Up the hill, watching over the scene was a lone coyote. He was likely the killer of the elk, who may have wandered away from the herd, not feeling well.
Scores of elk stay safe in a tight herd in the valley. It is also possible that a pack of wolves took down the elk. All these animals and moose too roam the national park in great numbers. Soon the bears will break hibernation and join the throng.
While we humans tend to pity the prey, we understand that all wildlife have to eat, and this is Nature’s way. We are privileged to witness it.
Continuing with our family theme during this pandemic as we gather only in family groups, I have some recent wildlife photographs to share with you from Wyoming. My friends and I spotted a mother with her yearling as well as male Big Horned Sheep nearby. The location was the Elk Refuge in Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, a wonderful place to visit in any season.
Best wishes for continued good health to all as we stay home and minimize the spread of the Coronavirus.
As our boat passed this Osprey family on their nest Sunday evening, I thought about our human families adjusting our lifestyles to “shelter in place,” and slow the spread of the deadly Coronavirus.
You have to admire the parental behavior of these beautiful Osprey. One parent will hunt for fish and bring it back to the nest to feed the family, and then tear apart the prey and feed the baby. Both parents keep a close eye out for any perceived threats coming close, such as bald eagles or humans. You can see the yellow eyes of mother Osprey on the right, hoping we will keep our distance. We were farther from the nest than it appears, as I made this photo with a 400mm Sony lens.
Who can resist the big amber eyes of the baby Osprey looking at the camera with naive curiosity. Babies of every species are precious.
While you curb your outside activities and exposure to other humans this month, please join our community following this blog. We love photography, nature, wildlife and travel and all four put together. I will keep posting to keep us connected. Feel free to comment and recommend this blog to your friends.
Temperatures might still be below freezing in Jackson Hole with the lakes covered in a thick coating of ice and snow, but the Trumpter Swans find the perfect spot to keep warm and well fed — in the hot springs.
There is a fine mist rising from the hot springs, as the air is around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The lakes and parts of the Snake River are frozen solid, showing moose tracks across the surface. Last night, we got 7″ of fresh snow.
It’s no coincidence that the ducks are swimming near the swans. They have a symbiotic relationship, as the swans foraging makes it easier for the ducks to forage as well. The swans reach underwater with their long necks, stirring up the underwater ecosystem. Both species can find plenty to eat here.