Ten days ago, I was biking in the Everglades National Park, working hard to get some photographs of the Great Egrets and Great Blue Heron in flight. I write to you today from my desk in Pennsylvania, because my efforts paid off and I have more images to share!
For you photographers out there, I had to use ISO 2500 in order to freeze motion with a shutter speed of 1/1000 and keep the aperture wide enough to achieve enough depth of field that the heron would not fly out of my focus zone too quickly. My camera is the Nikon D800, with the Nikon 70-200 mm lens, handheld. When birds take flight, it is a challenge to keep them sharp in the final image.
The success of this image reminds me of why I prefer still photography to video: with a print, one can freeze this moment to enjoy forever. All of these camera settings worked to create an image you can enjoy as a 10″ x 10″ print, available on my website.
On a recent Saturday, I visited three active nests of American Bald Eagles in South Florida to observe the eaglets and the pair of parents and to photograph some of the activity. The nest in Marco Island held the youngest eaglets, with two in the nest who were still weeks away from their first flight. As the eaglets moved around and stood up on the edge of the nest to take care of business — you know, to keep the nest clean — we got a good look.
Using my Tamron 150-600mm lens on my Nikon D800 mounted on a Really Right Stuff tripod, I got these close up photos, using ISO 200 around 10 am.
Perhaps a dozen spectators with a variety of cameras, long lenses, tripods, binoculars and camera phones gathered on the sidewalk at a respectful distance (behind a rope as a reminder). One told the story of last year’s drama: The father eagle was electrocuted in a power line while chasing off prey. Some time later, a new male eagle arrived on the scene, and finding eaglets in the nest, he threw them out. The young eaglets, unable to fly, plunged to their deaths. This year, the family is doing well.
Well hidden in the dark shadows of the Cypress Swamp, undisturbed by onlookers on a distant boardwalk, the Barred Owl seemed to sleep. Bird watchers gathered, whispered and pointed toward the quiet owl. It would take a long lens (600mm), steady hands, perfect focus and the right camera settings (ISO 2000, 1/1000th) to capture a good photograph. Since our owl stayed in place and turned in our direction eventually, I got the shot.
When I biked the trail in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park yesterday, I saw more large alligators than I could begin to count. Which one, I wondered, ate the huge Burmese Python (a problematic invasive species) recently?
When I spotted this enormous alligator, I had a suspect. His belly looks very full, and it looks like he may be resting while the large meal digests. He looks mighty enough to have taken on the python and won the battle, don’t you think?
When my children were little, my husband and I lulled them to sleep with a rocking chair and our favorite lullabies.
“Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.”
Those memories are precious.
But I don’t think I have ever SEEN a mockingbird until recently on an early morning bird tour in Naples, Florida. This mockingbird stayed on the pine branch long enough for me to capture this photograph. Now I can SHOW my children (and my grandchildren!) a live mockingbird.
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.
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.
Seconds later, the flock extended their wings and feet to land on the rookery island. Zoom in to get a closer look!