I published a Day Poem this morning, based on this experience. I love watching Black Skimmers at work…and I certainly enjoy trying to catch them in action. I have my “birds in flight and action modifications” to Program mode programed into the focus hold button on the Sony’s lens, right under my thumb, so all I have to do is press the button to shift modes when I see a BIF opportunity. The Sony Rx10iv’s tracking auto focus makes Skimmers easier than ever before…but it is still a challenge. This Black Skimmer was working the ponds off the short Gator Creek loop at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Titusville, Florida, USA. Sony Rx10iv as above, 600mm equivalent. Processed in Polarr and Apple Photos and assembled in FrameMagic.
And here is the poem.
Black Skimmers cut the water
the way the lady at the fabric
store cuts cloth…not scissoring
at all, but holding the blades
stationary and sliding, parting
the cloth effortlessly, easily,
as though it were an act of will
instead of muscle…of course water
(unlike cloth) is self healing and
no sooner has the Skimmers bill
parted the waters than the seam
seals, leaving hardly a ripple
behind the bird. I love to watch
them, and to try to catch them
in the act with my camera. Such
grace, such skill, more an act
of will than it is an act of muscle.
Socorro, New Mexico, USA. As I said in yesterday’s post, I never did see a full scale panic of Snow Geese this year at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge while I was there for the Festival of the Cranes. But I did see several mixed mini panics, involving both Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. And that is really odd because Cranes do not startle like that very often, at least in my limited experience. Generally Cranes are very deliberate, even about moving from one field to another. They go family by family after much apparent consideration. They don’t leap into the air in a bunch. Who knows what was up at Bosque this year. Sony Rx10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. Processed in Polarr and Apple Photos.
I realized this morning that I have not yet posted a close up photo of the other stars of the Bosque del Apache Festival of the Cranes from this year. As well as 14,000 Sandhill Cranes, between 30,000 and 40,000 Snow Geese winter at the Bosque. This is the first year I have visited Bosque without seeing a Snow Goose panic…when several thousand geese take to the air, calling and circling for between 5 and 15 minutes before settling. The geese were dispersed this year…feeding in several newly flooded fields, and not congregating in very large numbers in any single place. Perhaps that is why I saw no panics. I saw the geese rise in potential panics…but never enough at a time to pull the whole flock into the air. They always settled within seconds. ??? There were still lots of geese in the air as they moved in small flocks from field to field, so there were still opportunities to practice my birds in flight skills on Snow Geese, and I got some decent shots. You will want to view this one at as large as your screen allows…or maybe I should say, “I would like you to.” 🙂 Sony Rx10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. Processed in Polarr and Apple Photos.
The Sandhill Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, USA spend the night standing in shallow water to protect themselves from predators as they sleep. They wake before the sun comes up and just as it does, they rise and move off to fields where they feed during the day. Generally they leave in groups of 3, a family unit, but sometimes several families will decide to fly out at the same time. Dawn light on the mountains to the west of the Refuge and on the Cranes can make for some spectacular sights…though the light levels are a challenge for any camera. This shot is at ISO 6400 on the Sony Rx10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications. Processed in Polarr and Apple Photos.
Wildlife photography is all about being the right place at the right time and ready. We stopped for the first big group of Sandhill Cranes along the Tour Loop at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, in Socorro New Mexico, late in the afternoon on the north loop where they are knocking down corn for the Cranes and Snow Geese to feed. After about 10 minutes I noticed that there was a lot more action, especially birds in flight, at the south end of the field and we moved the car and ourselves down the road several hundred yards. The Cranes would come up out of the field and fly close across a hedgerow stand of Cottonwoods on their way to another group of Cranes at the end of the field two fields down. I was at the right place at the right time. I set the Sony Rx10iv in Program with my custom birds in flight modifications: center tracking auto focus, continuous focus, minimum shutter speed Auto ISO pegged at 2000th of a second, low speed continuous shooting (3.5 fps), and exposure linked to the focus point. So I was ready, or as ready as I could be. And the Cranes put on their show. I, and the camera, did not nail every shot, but I got many keepers over the next 30 minutes. The simple subtle grays and delicate feather details of the Cranes against the jumble of fall cottonwoods…and in great light. What more could you ask? Right place, right time, and ready!
One of the last “lessons” in my Advanced Field Techniques class for Point and Shoot Nature Photographers is “birds in flight” and yesterday, at Estero Llano Grande World Birding Center in Weslaco Texas, we came back to the deck at the Visitor Center overlooking the pond to see if anything would give us a chance to practice. Cue the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks! We had two groups circling the pond in the space of 30 minutes, giving us plenty of opportunity to practice our skills. Most P&S superzoom cameras (or “bridge” cameras as they are sometimes called) have an effective “sports” mode that works well for birds in flight, so it is not as hard as it sounds. And, of course, my Sony Rx10iv has wonderful tracking auto focus and shots at up to 24 frames per second, with makes it as good as any camera made of bif. The light was less than ideal…one of those grey cold front south Texas days…but still, needs must. And we could not have had better targets. Sony Rx10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds-in-flight modifications. Processed in Polarr and Apple Photos.
The Dry Tortugas, 80 miles off Key West, Florida, have the only nesting colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds in North America. For birders it is one of the attractions of the islands in spring. The colony is actually on Long Key, which is closed to human traffic during nesting, so the only way to see the birds on the nest is in a kayak or small motor boat, cruising out along the no-boats markers in the very shallow water in front of the key. To see them in flight, however, you just have to look up…at any given moment there are a dozen or more circling over Ft. Jefferson, and several hundred circling over Long Key. This shot was taken from the top of the Fort, where the birds are often at eye-level and certainly no more than 20 feet above your head. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications (minimum shutter speed ISO set to 1/2000th in the excellent light). Processed in Polarr.
I still have lots of photos from my three spring trips to post. Portugal, The Dry Tortugas, and the Biggest Week in American Birding in Ohio, all packed into a one month period. 100,000 Sooty Terns nest on the Dry Tortugas. You can not get very close to them during nesting but the mass of them over, on, and around Bush Key as seen from the top of the fort is totally impressive. If you are lucky enough to have a small boat and cruise out along the no-boats markers past Bush Key (on your way to Long Key to view the Magnificent Frigatebirds nesting, for instance) you have a good chance of seeing the Sooty Terns rise and circle over the shallow waters to fish and drink. They can literally surround your boat…often passing within a few feet. On our last day on the islands, the Sooty Terns rose and circled us not once, but three times. It was spectacular. Catching them on the wing, and as they drink, is a challenge…but one that few bird photographers can resist at least trying. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my custom birds in flight and action modifications (1/2000th minimum shutter speed ISO). Processed in Polarr and assembled in Framemagic.
Pelicans are among the best birds to practice your Birds in Flight skills on. They are big, so the camera focuses well, and when they are using the air currents over waves or breaking surf, or along a cliff, their flight is relatively predictable, so they are easy to track. Plus, the boldly textured feathers in all seasons, and the colorful breeding plumage in season, make them attractive subjects. Finally, shooting from sea cliffs in southern California, they are often at or below eye-level. This bird was below the cliffs at La Jolla Cove in La Jolla, California. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode with my birds in flight and action modifications. 1/1000th @ f4.5 @ ISO 100. -.3EV. Processed in Polarr.
I think it might be the guano streaked cliffs behind the bird that give this shot, to my eye, a slightly prehistoric aspect…and the pose of the bird below only adds to the effect. In reading this morning I discovered that the modern Pelican probably dates back 30 million years, so, yes, the bird is indeed legitimately prehistoric. La Jolla Cove, California. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Program mode with my birds in flight and action modifications. 1/1000th @ f4 @ ISO 400. Processed in Polarr. This is a good example of the tracking auto focus of the RX10iv. I have the whole sequence of the bird coming in and landing.