I’ve been trying out my new Nikon D500 which I got last week but I haven’t had much of a chance to use it until Wednesday. I love it with my 300mm lens. This combination is perfect for birds in flight photography. Moose Peterson gave me this recommendation when we were in Florida a couple of weeks ago. The D500 is much lighter than my D5, the crop factor gives the 300mm lens a 450mm reach so the birds are closer in the frame, and many of the bells and whistles on the D5 are also on the D500. The hummers were very active Wednesday afternoon, especially a female black-chinned hummer (at least I think it’s a black-chinned female) so I got in a little flight practice. The hummer was most interested in the pineapple sage which is in its full spring bloom right now. I’m finding that the auto focus really keeps me on my toes because it quickly grabs focus on anything that is closest to the viewfinder. When the hummer is flitting around the sage, it is a challenge to maintain focus on the bird.
A workshop in Mammoth Lakes brought me to the Eastern Sierra. Monday morning on the way home, we stopped at South Tufa Mono Lake. The early morning sun illuminated the interesting tufa formations.
Roseate Spoonbills have beautiful pink feathers and very odd looking faces and beaks. These two didn’t seem to get along too well at Corkscrew Swamp.
Sometimes the reflections in the water are clearer than what is being reflected. The tiny fish that this snowy egret just caught is more visible in the reflection.
When we were at Corkscrew Swamp, I noticed the snowy egrets were dragging their feet through the water as they flew across the lake. I finally inquired about it. Snowy egrets use various methods of stirring the water when they search for food, including dragging their feet across the water to agitate the surface to lure the fish upward. Fascinating.
Sanibel Island, Fort Myers, FL Sunday morning about an hour after sunrise.
One of the more animated and entertaining shorebirds to watch as it is feeding is the tri-colored heron, a bird that flaps its wings and runs, walks, and hops in pursuit of small fish and invertebrates in the shallow water.
This isn’t a typical sunrise photograph but it does show the gorgeous light on this willet as the sun was peeking over the horizon on Sanibel Island, Florida Sunday morning. The willet was bathing in the waves when we approached with our “beach panning” rigs, laying on the sand to capture this view. This beautiful light disappeared all too quickly.
I couldn’t leave Florida without photographing an alligator. I saw gators in several places, including the pond behind our hotel. But, on the last day of our trip, we visited the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers, Florida, an enchanting forest of cypress, ferns, and otherworldly vegetation and animal sounds. The Slough is traversed via a series of boardwalks over this primitive area and punctuated by ponds that are alive with birds and reptiles. At the Otter Pond, we watched and listened to a cacophony of birds like egrets, herons, hawks, anhingas, pileated woodpeckers, owls, limpkins, kingfishers, wood ducks, and ibis. All the while these birds hunted along the edges of the pond or swam on it, an alligator lurked nearby. We spent about 3 hours in the Preserve, most of it at the Otter Pond but although the gator surfaced every once in a while, we didn’t witness the disappearance of any of the birds at the pond…that must have come either before or after our visit.
Normally, a bird’s eye view is an elevated view of something from above, as if the observer is overhead looking down. The practice of beach panning achieves for a photographer another type of bird’s eye view with the same eye level as the shorebirds that run along the beach. I am so taken with this type of photography, which I first experienced on the Texas Gulf Coast several months ago, that I jumped at the chance to try it again, this time on the Florida Gulf Coast. Beach panning is the process of getting down low on the beach with a long lens on a panning plate supported by a Frisbee so the photographer is at the subject’s level. It takes practice. Lots of practice. The resulting photographs offer an uncommon view of shore birds, one that I love because of its shallow depth of field, minimal background, and of course its bird’s eye view.
This shot features a willet walking toward me on the beach on Sanibel Island, a beach popular with seashell collectors. The beach is littered with all manner of shells, some whole, some shards. A line of seashells is visible at the bottom of the photograph along with a small knot of sea grass. The shells make the work of beach panning even more challenging for me. My knees and elbows are bruised and scraped from the shells but the results are worth it to me.
A Double-crested Cormorant, with its vivid teal-colored eyes, posed for us on Fort Myers Beach on Saturday morning.
Sanibel Island is home to lots of burrowing owls. We found this owl in a protected corner of a popular community park in the middle of a neighborhood of single family homes. After we photographed this owl, holding vigil near its burrow, we were told by residents that quite a few owls lived in front yards of homes. Indeed, as we drove away, just a few houses down the street we saw another owl holding forth near its burrow. The eyes of the burrowing owl are quite expressive and I loved this look, somewhere between disdain and come hither as it squinted into the late afternoon sun.
It seems so simple and so obvious but sometimes it takes a while for things to sink into my brain. Moose reminded us that birds, like airplanes, take off into the wind which was quite brisk on Thursday in and around Fort Myers, FL where we were based. When they fly into the wind, large birds like brown pelicans, tend to fly slowly, making for lots of opportunities to photograph them. With the wind behind us and the sun behind us as well, it was perfect conditions for flight practice. Again and again, the brown pelicans flew toward us and over our heads as we stood on the Sanibel Island Fishing Pier practicing. They were often so close that I clipped the wings. The Florida brown pelican’s head feathers are turning yellow meaning it’s getting its breeding plumage.
On our first day in Yellowstone National Park, we came across this flock of Bighorn rams seeking shelter from the winds atop a hill with trees behind them creating a windbreak. A lone ewe in the front with the short horns accompanied the rams. The winds were relentless and it was difficult to keep the long lens still on the tripod. This was the best of the shots I took and it isn’t in sharp focus.
A back alley in Livingston, Montana features a power grid, old brick buildings, and new plastic garbage receptacles.
Sometimes we were so close to the herd of pronghorns that my 600mm lens allowed me to capture only a portrait.
The Gallatin Mountain Range begins north of Yellowstone National Park and dominates the northwest corner of the park. I took this panorama at a pullout by a horseshoe bend in the Yellowstone River about forty miles north of the park.
The buffleheads leave wakes behind them as they lift off from the Yellowstone River late in the afternoon.