You might wonder if that Yellow Crowned Night Heron knew how to “pick a crab,” if you read the previous blog (with the heron holding a live crab in its beak). My friend Mary and I watched the heron dismantle and texturize and finally swallow the crab. This series of photographs will share the experience with you:
As a Baltimore native, I know how to pick a crab: first you remove the claws and legs, (although there is more than one right way.) The heron shook the crab hard enough to knock those off. You can see the claws on the sand.
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.
The first clue to the unfolding scene of predators and prey was the Bald Eagle with fresh blood on its white feathers. Our group of four photographers pulled off the road in Jackson Hole to study what was happening on this snow covered hillside.
Soon, we identified two bald eagles and a golden eagle perched on boulders. The golden eagle was much larger than the Bald Eagle, but as the scene appears compressed though the 600mm lens, you can’t see the size difference in the photo.
Yes, with binoculars we spotted a bloody carcass between the boulders with a magpie (black and white bird common to the mountainous ecosystem) currently picking at the carcass. The eagles must have had their fill.
Up the hill, watching over the scene was a lone coyote. He was likely the killer of the elk, who may have wandered away from the herd, not feeling well.
Scores of elk stay safe in a tight herd in the valley. It is also possible that a pack of wolves took down the elk. All these animals and moose too roam the national park in great numbers. Soon the bears will break hibernation and join the throng.
While we humans tend to pity the prey, we understand that all wildlife have to eat, and this is Nature’s way. We are privileged to witness it.
Wearing “camo” is in. Especially if you are an alligator and hunt for food in the wild. Alligators floating in the swamp have a natural advantage, because they resemble floating logs, and they are silent and often still. Unsuspecting fish, birds and even people swim or walk by, in close range.
This 14-foot American Alligator seen at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was cruising Lettuce Lakes early Sunday morning, beneath the nest of three Anhinga chicks. He took on a new “camo” outfit as the plants adhered to his back.
While this gator casts a wary glance at me, I am quite wary of him too, and I keep a respectful distance. On a recent trip to Shark Valley in Everglades National Park, I learned a few new facts about the American Alligator. If he chases you, don’t run serpentine, like the wive’s tale says. Run in a straight line, as fast as you can for alligators are very quick for just long enough to catch you. (They can run at 20 miles per hour.) The jaws too are powerful (2900 pounds of force recorded), and no match for human self-defense.
The 70mm lens on my Sony a2r7 camera makes it appear that I am close to the gator than I really am. (“Kids, don’t try this at home.”) Park rangers suggest a distance of at least 15 feet. Watch behind you, too. There are hundreds of alligators in the Everglades, some hidden underwater, Any fresh water watering hole in Florida could contain one.
As this Everglades alligator and I made eye contact, I could not resist the photo opportunity of its serpentine shape in the water. Thanks to my Nikon 200mm lens, I was not as close to this dangerous predator as it appears. I am still very glad that it stayed very still in the water while we looked each other over. It is used to seeing tourists, dozens of them who like to stop on the bike path and point and take photos. And fortunately, the habitat is full of birds and fish and frogs for the gator to eat. What I like about this photo, is that it seems like life pauses for a moment when the viewer looks at the gator, and the gator looks back. The composition is both natural and simple, with the serpentine shape showing the eye a path through the frame.