Friday, March 7, 2014

David Bowie and the Green Heron

What does David Bowie have to do with photographing green herons? I was once a huge Bowie fan.  Don't ask me why but every time I see a green heron, the David Bowie song "The Jean Genie" pops into my head. This is only because of the line "Poor Little Greenie", as none of the lyrics to the song make any sense or has any connection to birds or photography what so ever. I just thought that was an interesting way to begin a discussion on why I love to photograph green herons.

Most of the birds I photograph are herons and egrets; thankfully there are several species to choose from. Each one is distinguishable one way or another but I believe the green heron is most distinct from all other herons and egrets; at least when it comes to photographing them. On Biscayne Bay, most egrets and herons stand out in the water clear of mangroves much of the time. But one that rarely ventures away from the mangrove trees is the green heron. It is for this reason that I love photographing this little bird, but it is also the reason why it is more difficult to capture it well.

What makes it relatively difficult to capture a green heron is the fact that it blends well in the mangrove roots and leaves. So I first have to find it. Plus, it is relatively small compared to the other Ardeidae family members. Once you find one, it remains difficult to capture it as it stands over the water on a mangrove root. In such close proximity to the tree, shadows and cluttered surroundings make it challenging to compose a good shot. And like all herons and egrets, this little bird is fast, very fast. Capturing it as it strikes the water and grabs something in its beak is challenging to say the least. Although I captured some images of a green heron with a bait fish in its beak, none was a keeper for some reason or another (usually because the image was not sharp enough).

On the flip side of that, I find the green heron to be the most approachable among the waders. I judge this by how close I can get to it (mind you, I am including my boat), many times within 10-15 feet of a bird. Because of this one trait, I have been somewhat successful in capturing it as it hunts for food. When I do find a green heron and attempt to photograph it, I try to position myself so that the bird stands out from its surroundings. I look for a clean background, and try to avoid leaves and branches that get between the bird and the lens. On the other hand, the mangroves can make the composition more interesting.

Once I have the correct exposure, I set the autofocus on continuous, adjust the focusing spot so that when the time comes, the bird's head will be focused as it comes into contact with the water. As with any egret hunting for food, you have to anticipate their movements and wait with your finger on the shutter button. The other advantage of the green heron is it is very active when it hunts, unlike certain birds that stand for long periods of time without moving. It likes to jump around from root to root, which can be fun to capture. Consequently, there are lots of poses and movement patterns that can be captured in one setting.

One day, I hope to display a keeper-image of a green heron with its prey. But until then, enjoy these images of the "Poor Little Greenie", even if you are not a David Bowie fan.

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