Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bully birds

It's been a long time since I sat in my canoe on Chokoloskee Bay and paddled no further than the pilings that line parts of the island. On both Saturday and Sunday, I paddled less than 2 miles, despite the near perfect conditions. I did not expect much to photograph with an incoming tide that basically covers all the oyster flats where wading birds might be found. I figured I would paddle around and not much else. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to get the opportunity to spend both mornings with the sandwich terns that provide one of my favorite scenes. How could a common seabird be so interesting to photograph? See for yourself with several images I post here. This time of year, the sandwich terns are found in great number around Chokoloskee Bay. With an incoming tide, they roost near the marina, so all I have to do is paddle about 30 feet or so. With dozens of them, it is a fun spectacle to watch as birds fight for a 6-in circumference piling space. To add interest, they are among other larger birds, the laughing gull and royal tern. And of course, there are the brown pelican.

So for about 3 hours or so both mornings, I staked out near the pilings as the water rose. Some small amount of wind and current moved my boat around on occasion, but mostly it was calm. It is a challenge to photograph this scene. First, the birds are mostly at least 12 feet above me. This is not ideal as the sun rises and the under-wings become more and more shadowed. Second, while the winds may be calm, it is still difficult to keep the boat absolutely still because I need at least a few feet of water below my boat to minimize the vertical distance between me and the birds. With wading birds, I am often in shallow enough waters that I can anchor the boat with the ground or my feet. Third, because there are so many pilings, capturing the birds without distracting foregrounds and backgrounds is a challenge. Fourth, because the best way to photograph these birds is when they are landing onto a piling, the wind direction must be suited for the bird. In other words, you need the wind to your back so the bird can fly toward the camera. And fifth, the pilings are often very unattractive.


With all those challenges, I was able to capture several bird interactions with good light and ideal water conditions. On Sunday, I used my monopod to give my hands a break and that created an additional challenge, but eventually I got use to it. I also put the flash on the camera with the constant cloud cover, so this added more weight to the camera. At the end of the morning, I was satisfied knowing that I captured a handful of images with nice compositions, good light and ideal sharpness. Not an easy task given all the challenges presented. With these images, I always attempt to capture full wing spreads, some eye contact (particularly between birds), want to see the beaks on all the birds in the image, enough separation between birds to see each one, clean background and foreground, and ideally, a piling that is not distracting. Enjoy these images of the feisty sandwich terns.

1 comment:

  1. A treat to see these ter ns up close and in action -- their beautiful wings and interactions. I liked reading about the challenges of getting the shots. In the next section, I especially love the anhiga )?) reaching down like a live branch into the water. How wonderful it must be to spend so many hours with your subjects.