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.
Irish poet William B. Yeats said “April is the cruelest month,” but every year I like to paraphrase Yeats to say, “February is the cruelest month.” Depending on where you live, the ground is frozen and often glazed with ice; driving is dangerous and even walking is treacherous. What I wouldn’t give for a day at the beach! Even a green lawn and a hot dog at the ball park would be nice.
For Floridians, February is far different. The weather is warm, and the vegetation is green and sometimes colorful. Wildlife is flourishing, and nature photographers are inspired. This egret at the Naples Botanical Garden reveals his colorful habitat in this photograph. February? Not a problem.
Watching and waiting for this Great White Egret to take off, I was rewarded by this sighting of outstretched white wings. With my Nikon camera shutter set at 1/1000 second, I was prepared to capture this image to share with you.
Since I also set my Nikon D800 on “continuous-high,” I have two more great frames to share. You can help me decide which one is best. I will submit one or two of these photos to the Royal Poinciana Members’ Photography Contest. The submitted photos have to be shot on the property.
While I was leaving Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary at 5pm, I witnessed a dramatic ambush. A Red-Shouldered Hawk swooped into the woods and nearly took out a quick moving Red-Bellied woodpecker. As the hawk flew in and just as quickly flew away, the woodpecker, traumatized by its near-death experience, shrieked and jumped around frantically for several minutes. I recognized the behavior as a way of communicating, “HOLY —-. That hawk almost KILLED me!!!”
I set up my tripod as quickly as I could and made some images of the woodpecker as he momentarily rested on the trunk of this tree. When I got home to examine my photos, I was able to identify the type of bird he was. While the hawk’s behavior is part of Nature’s food chain, I could relate to the anxiety of the little woodpecker. That was one scary experience!
It was love at first sight when I spotted a Red-Shouldered Hawk for the first time. He perched on a high tree branch and kept his eyes trained on the water below, watching for prey. I waited and waited for him to take flight until my arms needed a rest. I wanted to capture him in flight, but his watch outlasted mine.
My luck had not run out. About 5 minutes later along my hike in Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, another couple had stopped to watch something low in the swamp. It must be the mate! Another red-shouldered hawk was foraging in the forested area, and I got some closer shots of its beautiful plumage. Sure enough, you can observe the red shoulder from this angle.
These raptors are fierce hunters, feeding on mammals as large as rabbits and tree squirrels, small reptiles and even birds of all sizes including the Eastern Screech Owl. Their length is typically 23-24″. Of these two hawks, I’m not sure which one is male and which is female.
Wood storks are an uncommon bird. They were once endangered, but now the species has been upgraded to “threatened.” This time of year (February) most of them are sitting on their nests, so they are not out and about and easy to find.
This wood stork was preening its feathers on the Royal Poinciana Golf Club early Monday morning. We can’t tell if it is male or female, for the birds offer no outward signs of their sex. Perhaps it will pick up some fish as take-out dinner to take back to the nest.
If you can capture a photograph of a Roseate Spoonbill when it spreads its wings to take flight, you are in for a visual treat even better than a strawberry parfait. You need to steady your lens on the bird, focus, make sure your shutter speed will freeze motion and wait.
These large wading birds are quick, so you must anticipate their take off. The Spoonbill’s motion parallel to the focus plane helped this image work. My settings on the Sony a7rII are ISO 1250, f /5.6 (pretty wide open lens to let in more light), 244mm, and 1/2500 second shutter speed. A higher resolution image is available on my website in the Florida Gallery: www.cathykellyphotography.com.
Bird photography gets really fun when you are trying to capture unique behavior. This Reddish Egret I observed on Sanibel Island, Florida had some cool moves. I was amused by the head tilt that began his feeding dance. In this image, it looks like he is given the duck some attitude.