Red Shouldered Hawk

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.

Red-Shouldered Hawk perched high above the water at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida.

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 Stork Kneeling

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.

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Because the knees bend backwards, this wood stork looks like it is sitting on its elbows. Its a very large bird, making the great blue heron look like its skinny cousin.

Brown Pelican Yoga

Watching and waiting, and watching and waiting some more is a practice that is rewarding in wildlife photography. As you will see here, some behaviors happen so fast, that a photographer will only capture them if he or she is already poised to shoot.

Not much happening here: two brown pelicans preening their feathers in Ding Darling National Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Whoa! One Brown Pelican stretches its neck to give me a good view of its pouch.
Brown Pelican stretches his neck even further! What a moment.
Final image in the surprising series of Brown Pelican yoga.

White Pelicans in Flight

#whitepelican, #pelican, #flying, #inflight, #wings, #sky, #howto, #nikon, #tamron
White Pelicans soar above Sanibel Island, showing their black wingtips. Their wingspan is the second largest for a bird in North America.

It’s certainly a challenge to photograph birds in flight. Your shutter speed must be fast enough (1/1000 second) and your depth of field sufficient to keep the birds in focus (f/20), as they won’t stop for you to capture your photograph. I used an ISO of 800 on a bright sunny day, to allow me to shorten the shutter speed and dial down the aperture. It helps if the birds are flying roughly parallel to your focal plane, rather than toward or away from you. And it takes practice. These beautiful birds look amazing as they come in for a landing, too.

3-2-1 — Contact. Back to the White Pelican Squadron on the sandbar.

Brown Pelican in Action

I have often tried to photograph the Brown Pelican in action: taking off, landing, flying, fishing but they are so fast moving that it is difficult to track, focus and release the shutter in time to capture a crisp image. But you know what they say: stick with it, and “luck comes to the well prepared” photographer.

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With my Nikon D800 (with 600mm of glass) mounted on a tripod and focus fixed on this Brown Pelican, I captured this image of his outstretched wings.

I have always loved the Brown Pelican, because their grace belies their large stocky body, and they are quiet birds who frequent the beach. It is fascinating to watch them dive-bomb fish by careening straight down into the ocean to stun the fish and later scoop them up in their large beak, letting the whole fish glide into their ample pouch.

After a brief stop on the sandbar, off the Brown Pelican goes again, revealing another view of those huge wings.

This bird photography adventure took place at the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida.

Bird Bonanza in Sanibel

Whenever I’m lucky enough to see Roseate Spoonbills in the Florida wetlands, I am enchanted by their delicate pink color and the wide brush stroke of deeper pink on the wings of the adults. Their eyes are pink too.

Then, while observing the face and spoon-shaped bill, I am amazed at the diversity of nature.

#roseate, #roseatespoonbill, #dingdarling, #sanibel, #birds, #birdphotography, #wadingbirds, #wildlife, #lowtide, #nikon
Casting a pink shadow on the water, these Roseate Spoonbills were feeding during low tide.

All within the same hour and the same location, my friend Caroline and I observed a wide variety of bird species: many Little Blue Heron, a Green Heron, a Tricolored Heron, some Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Reddish Egrets, lots of Ibis, Brown Pelicans, Cormorants and the huge migratory American White Pelicans, along with a Yellow Crested Night Heron and an Osprey pair. It sounds like a trip to the Aviary, but no — this was all wildlife enjoying the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida. Keep checking this blog for more actions shots of these beautiful birds.

Snowy Egret Ballet

Silently watching a rookery island at sunset, I observed flocks of ibis, flocks of pelicans and flocks of snowy egret gently glide along the water to land on the island and take refuge for the night. One bird in flight is a graceful wonder to watch, but a flock of one species in flight together is a veritable ballet.

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Incoming! A flock of snowy egrets: notice their black legs and yellow feet.

Seconds later, the flock extended their wings and feet to land on the rookery island. Zoom in to get a closer look!

If you look carefully, you can find several pelicans and cormorants already nestled in the tree branches.