Stop Action Series: Great Blue Heron in Flight

As an eyewitness to a bird in flight, I know the beauty we see is fleeting. In the blink of an eye, the sighting is a memory — as long as I didn’t blink! On the other hand, two photographs taken in quick succession can be studied, savored and enjoyed forever.

As a wildlife photographer, capturing a continuous series of a bird in flight is one of my goals, since I love seeing those beautiful wings outstretched. That’s not to mention the rewarding feeling of meeting the challenge of focus and freezing action of a fast moving subject!

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron’s lift off in the Everglades at Shark Valley. (First in series)
Great Blue Heron in flight
Great Blue Heron flies with wings outstretched. Everglades National Park. (Second in series)

Contrast these views with the serene beauty of the Great Blue Heron at rest, as it watches the water for a fish to catch.

Great Blue Heron, Everglades
Great Blue Heron perched waterside for feeding in Everglades National Park, Shark Valley.

Great Blue Heron: Strength and Grace

Oh the beauty of the Great Blue Heron in flight: I see strength and grace, silent purpose, and independence.

Great Blue Heron, GBH, Shark Valley
Great Blue Heron takes flight in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park.

If you are up to a full day bike hike through the hot, sunny Everglades, you will observe birds and alligators in abundance and a tremendous variety of photo opportunities.

Fierce Predator, Tender Parent

A fish swimming near the surface doesn’t have a chance when an adult osprey spots it and descends to sink its sharp talons into it. Once the osprey grips the fish, up it flies to the nest where young osprey chicks are waiting. Atop the nest, the osprey parent shreds the fish and feeds the youngsters. It’s a tender moment for any species…

osprey
Adult osprey feeding the young in the nest on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Frozen lake’s sights and sounds

My eye followed the leading lines in this frozen lake across to the Wasatch Mountain Range. While the mountains were lacking in fresh snow, the temperatures were very cold, in the single digits and teens on this February day. Nearby, a well-bundled man was ice-fishing.

Wasatch mountains, lake, Utah
Frozen lake at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

While I was taking in this vista, I noticed the interesting sounds the ice was making. Have you ever listened to the sounds of a frozen lake?

Longhorn Bull Up Close

As an East Coast girl, I’ve never seen longhorn cattle before, but this trip to Utah gave me the chance. Two bulls were feeding and spending time outside on a bitter cold February morning. I enjoyed getting a close look and taking some photos. Both bulls were friendly; one of them came to the fence for a scratch on the forehead.

longhorn cattle, Utah, nature
Looking at those horns on this longhorn bull in Heber Valley, Utah as he drinks from the creek.

Daybreak in the Wasatch Mountains

Before the rising sun can light Squaw Peak, it has to clear some pretty tall mountains to the East. Here is the first morning light on Squaw Peak.

Wasatch, Heber Valley
First light makes the Wasatch Mountains look like a giant sculpture, rising from the Heber Valley, Utah.

I’m exploring the mountains around Park City, Utah for the first time. It’s fun for a Floridian to experience a bit of Winter, even if the temperatures are frigid. A good pair of gloves and hand warmers are a must!

Blue Heron: Gotta Eat and Run

Today’s episode on bird behavior features the Little Blue Heron, now officially named “Blue Heron.” You’ll notice its blue beak and smaller size in comparison to the Great Blue Heron. As you follow along this series of four photographs, you will see the heron wade into shallow water and look for food with a head tilt.

Blue heron, reflection
Little Blue Heron looks for food in shallow water, but it looks like it admires its reflection. J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve, Sanibel Island, FL.

Next, the blue heron suddenly dunks its head under water to pierce or grab its prey.

blue heron, feeding
Ker-splash! Blue heron grabs its food in the shallow water. Sanibel Island, FL
blue heron, feeding, wading bird
Blue heron feeding during low tide on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Finished feeding here, the little blue heron takes flight for a new location.

Wings outstretched, the blue heron takes flight on Sanibel Island, Florida.

My Favorite Hawk

I should be more precise: the Red Shouldered Hawk is the ONLY hawk I like. I think it’s such a handsome bird. It’s classy, quiet and artfully patterned. What do you think?

red shouldered hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in SW Florida, on the hunt.

I like this pose in which the hawk tilts its head while looking at possible prey.

red shouldered hawk
Red Shouldered Hawk with a sharp eye on the swamp below at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

I first spotted this silent hawk directly above me. At this angle, its torso is foreshortened, but the morning light illuminates its habitat. You don’t need binoculars to observe this large hawk.

red shouldered hawk
The Red Shouldered Hawk displays piercing eyes, a bright yellow bridge on its beak and a barred pattern on its feathered breast. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, SW Florida.

Ibis Activities

The Ibis — large white wading birds with pink curved beaks — are often seen in Florida. They feed in groups, pecking the ground in shallow water or near the water. I like them because they are beautiful, peaceful birds with black wingtips, whether I see them soaring overhead, landing on the beach or walking through my neighborhood.

The Ibis were active at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a wildlife observation site near Naples, Florida. A flock of three flew overhead, making a racquet with their unique “quack.” I observed one perched atop a high tree branch, and watched him long enough to photograph him fly into the brilliant blue sky.

ibis in flight
Ibis flies from his perch on a high tree branch in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in SW Florida.

Later, I watched an Ibis in a tree gathering nesting material. Usually, I see Ibis in shallow water or in the grass feeding, so this was interesting to watch.

Ibis nesting
Ibis gathers nesting material in January at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, SW Florida.

A more typical Ibis sighting is this one from Sanibel Island at low tide, where I observed this Ibis catching a crab in his beak.

Ibis feeding
Ibis feeding on a crab at J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Why Infrared Photography Works in Florida

Green foliage, blue skies and bright sunlight are daily staples in southwest Florida, and all three of these elements combine to make strong infrared photographs. While the look of the final image and final print will vary with your processing style, green foliage can read as white, blue skies will go dark, and bright sunlight produces high contrast. If you like black and white prints, these qualities of an infrared photo will deliver greater contrast and drama than traditional film or digital photography.

Here is a recent infrared photograph that I captured at the Naples Botanical Garden on a sunny afternoon and processed to black and white, achieving the contrast I strive for.

Sunlit palms at Naples Botanical Garden, an infrared photograph by Cathy Kelly. Prints available.