I just returned from a weekend photographing Sandhill Cranes near Othello, WA. The cranes are on their migration path from central California, where they winter, to Alaska. I am relatively new at bird photography. I practice a lot to get decent images. I took around 3500 images over a three day period. My “decent image” percentage is about 2%.. The following sequence is what we went through to photograph the birds. #1 – Find the birds. The first day we spent about 4 hours before we saw any Sandhill’s. #2 – Position myself to get the sun behind my back. Hope that wind is coming from the same direction. The birds land and take off into the wind. #3 – Have a lot of patience. Don’t get excited and take hundreds of images of birds on the ground not doing anything or birds that are flying off way in the distance. #4 – Wait for the birds to do something interesting like taking off/landing or “dancing” on the ground. #5 – Anticipate, be be ready. You do not have a lot of time to focus and shoot. #6 – Make sure you are focused on the bird before you shoot. I had a lot of blurry images (I meed a lot of practice). #7 – Pray that you captured a few good images. My success rate was not very good. #8 – Shoot with someone who knows what they are doing. Thank you Jack!!!
The above image was not my best, but it had some interesting lighting. It was a good opportunity to do a little post processing. I will include sharper images in future posts.
After looking at this, I laughed at myself. This is not a sandhill crane … it’s a Canadian goose. It is still a beautiful sight though.
Danger – Gator !!!!
As I mentioned in my previous post, I had placed my full attention toward shooting the terns as they were diving. I sat down along the path so I could brace my elbows on my knees as I followed the birds. After we finished, I looked down and saw this young gator sunning itself less than 10 feet from my legs. Holy XXXX, did I jump. Even though the area had warning signs about alligators, I had not even thought about it when I sat down. My eyes were on the birds in the sky, not at the water’s edge in front of me. That is the rest of the story.
How many times have I focused on capturing an image without paying attention to what was around me. This is truly a lesson learned! Be safe out there!!!
Now things really get tough. Capturing a diving tern is not easy. They dart changing directions constantly as they fly looking for little morsels in the water. Once they see something, they dive at 1000 miles per hour (or so it seems). To catch a dive, I had to actively follow the bird as it darted above, keeping it in focus. Then as soon as it makes a motion down, I start shooting and drop my camera to the water as fast as I can. My camera shoots at 10 fps and I still caught only a couple of dives in the 250 images I shot. We shot for about a half an hour. I was exhausted from the concentration that I had exerted. I was ready to quit. But this is not the end of the story. Wait for my next post …
Nesting Great Blue Herons
Now things are getting a little more difficult. The heron’s flight path was erratic and now I had to worry about timing and composure within the frame. Here, I was trying to capture a specific action of the male landing to bring the female branches to make a nest. I made a lot of errors including not leaving enough room at the edges of the frame. Many of my images clipped the wings of the heron as he landed. Also, I had a difficult time focusing on the main subject. There were many other things going on around me and I would try to capture them as well. I missed several opportunities to capture special actions of this couple.
There is also a little story behind these two love birds. Even though the male was working hard to bring the female twigs for the nest, she was not very faithful. When he would fly to get more twigs, another male would fly in and “do its thing”. The first male would quickly fly back to chase the second one away. It was rather comical to watch their behavior.
Wood Stork at Orlando Wetlands Park
This and several other Wood Storks helped me practice panning to follow their flight patterns. These storks would fly from one set of trees to another set of trees about 500 – 1000 yards apart. I was on a hill positioned at right angles to their flight path. All I had to do was to pick up their flight from one set of trees and follow it to the other set of trees. Their flight path was straight without any erratic moves. All I had to worry about was the correct exposure, shutter speed to freeze action, and achieving the initial focus. Pretty easy …
Florida Sandhill Crane
This guy walked right in front of me. I had to back up to achieve focus. The Orlando Wetlands Park was like walking in open zoo. It was a great place to practice bird photography. My next challenge was to try to capture birds in flight. This turned out to be quite a bit more difficult and a subject for future posts.
Sandhill Cranes at Orlando Wetlands Park
I thought I would try my skills doing a little bird photography at the Space Coast Bird Festival in Titusville, Florida this year. These two sandhill cranes made it really easy as they leisurely walked right in front of me. Later on, one walked only about 10 feet in front me (subject of a future post). They are beautiful and graceful creatures. I plan to try to capture them during their mating phase near Othello, Washington later in March.
This little sea otter was showing off twisting his/her body and rolling in the water. He stopped for a second to pose. I couldn’t resist.
Canon 7D MkII, EF100-400mm L @ 400mm, f/5.6, 1/5000 sec, ISO 800
A couple of days after my dear wife passed, I was walking along the bridge at Lake Galena in Peace Valley Park. I looked up and saw a large bird down the lake flying directly for me. As it approached, the Osprey stopped and hovered in the wind right above me. It looked down and just stared at me. I could feel the message from my darling wife above.
Canon 7D MkII, EF100-400mm 3.5-5.6L IS @ 400mm, f/7.1, 1/1250 sec, ISO 1600
A couple of days ago, I took a couple of hours to visit Peace Valley Park to try to get a couple of nature shots. As I arrived, three bus loads of kids arrived for a field trip. There went my opportunity to get any wildlife shots with all the noise. It was a great day for the kids though. So I put my camera to my side and just enjoyed the walk in the woods.
When I got back to the nature center, I thought I would try the bird blind. It provided a good spot to try out my new 100-400mm zoom and the low noise and fast shutter speed performance of my new Canon 7D MkII. I was pleased with both.