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.
Watching a bird preen his feathers reminds me of watching a girl brush her long hair. It’s pretty special to watch wildlife behavior and learn about what birds and other wildlife do naturally. But the cool thing about observing preening — or hair brushing in humans — is that you feel like you catch a glimpse of private time, where the bird (or the girl) takes a few minutes to think of herself and make herself look good and feel good. In a way, it’s intimate.
This Great Blue Heron was taking time to preen before low tide, which is time to hunt for food. Early in the morning, he was getting ready for his day. (I assume this heron was male, due to the breeding plumage, the long wispy feathers in front.) Here are a series of photos:
This Great Blue Heron looks like royalty and he knows it. He lives a great life on Sanibel Island, Florida and he doesn’t mind a few photographers pointing long lenses at him first thing in the morning. In fact, he rather enjoyed it until the photographers got bloody sick of it and packed themselves and their gear in the car to go home. He just stood on the rock, posed and stared us down.
I loved the close up view of the Great Blue Heron’s intricate feathers, brilliantly lit by the direct sun. We photographers we so lucky that he lingered with us.
Low tide is the perfect time to observe White Pelicans, Brown Pelicans, Great Egrets, Blue Heron and Ibis foraging on Sanibel Island. If you are lucky, you might even see some Roseate Spoonbills. Dozens of these beautiful birds crowded an area where the fish seemed to be concentrated.
The White Pelicans are literally “snow birds” who have flown south to Florida from the northern reaches of the United States for a respite from winter.
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.
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.
Word on the street is that these White Pelicans migrated to Florida from the Great Lakes region. Anyone who has driven that distance can appreciate how long that journey is. While they have flown a long way from home, they enjoy huddling together, wing to wing, beak to beak on this sunny evening.