Monday, May 30, 2011

And now the brown pelican

From my weekend at the rookeries, I have spent a fair amount of time learning more about snowy egrets, great white egrets and cattle egrets (see previous 3 posts). Now, my attention again turns to the brown pelican. Following these birds for the past 3 years has been the highlight of my rookery photography. As much as I enjoy the egrets, it is the brown pelican that has consistently provided photographs and I enjoy watching them for hours at a time.

When I first arrived at the rookery this morning, it was barely 7 am and the sun was casting a golden light. This is a time of day for photography that I love but also find more challenging from a canoe. I do not like to use an ISO setting greater than 800, so this leaves me with no more than a 1/500 shutter speed at f5.6 when photographing the brown pelicans. I can get away with a much fast shutter speed with white birds. But during the early minutes of the morning, it is the brown pelican that I find to be most photogenic. They like to swim and fly early in the morning, so I often come up on the rookery noticing several immature and adult pelicans flying in to the rookery islands or swimming around the area. I was also fortunate to have an east wind, which meant that the birds would be making their flight landings while facing me, as seen in the photo above.

The slow shutter speed is fast enough to capture these birds sharply but also with some wing blur, which I like. Here is another photo. Sadly, the bird is missing a foot.

Soon after, I paddled closer to one of the islands which was mainly inhabited by pelican nests. There are a few nests that are low enough to be almost eye level. I can kneel in my boat while shooting, which provides me a 1- 1.5 ft higher perspective than sitting. And today, I had an incoming tide which meant that the water level would quickly raise up. Perfect for rookery photography. A few weeks ago, I blogged on the brood reduction hypothesis so noticeable among the brown pelicans. Here are a couple photos that clearly demonstrate the size difference within a brood. Notice the two smaller pelicans behind the big one in the first photo. In the second photo, the smaller sibling's face can be barely seen against the bigger bird's wing near the mangrove leaves.

While focusing on some egret nests, I noticed a pelican scene in an island about 100 ft away. At the top of the mangrove canopy, a couple pelican chicks were beginning to receive some food from a parent. The scene was beautiful with all birds mostly cleared of branches. The way the parent and babies were fluttering their wings, I had a wide horizontal shot and actually had to zoom out to 330-360 mm to avoid cutting off a wing, which you can see I did in the first photo.

Here is one photo after the feeding with the adult poised to take off, leaving its chicks to wait for the next meal.

Later in the morning, still focusing on egrets, I noticed an adult pelican flying into the water and swimming under the mangrove roots to pick out a branch and then fly it back to its nest in a nearby island. I paddled a bit closer as it was side lighted. By now, the sun was quite high and the lighting a bit severe. Here's a couple shots of the adult with some nest material.

I am not sure if I will be back to the pelican rookery again this year. I am content with that; it's been a very good season and everyday that I can visit the rookery is a good experience. My learning curve is still relatively steep in terms of bird photography; but as I live in paradise, I will continue to have many more learning opportunities while capturing the wonder of birds.

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