Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Making Time For Some Wildlife Photography

Northern Pintails feeding in a fresh water impoundment
Earlier this month, I had the chance to do something I haven't had the time or opportunity to do for a while - wildlife photography. I spent some time at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge on the East Central Florida coast photographing waterfowl and wading birds. It made for a memorable morning as my visit gave way to a lot of new images.

Flock after flock of Pintail flew in from the east, circled, and landed in the water within 100 yards of my location
My morning began well before dawn as I wanted to be on site before the sun rose. The drive to the Refuge took me about a half an hour and once I arrived I made  beeline for one of the freshwater impoundments so I could catch flocks of pintail and blue wing teal coming in from their roosts for their morning meal. I was not disappointed. As soon as the sun began to rise, I could hear the splashes of waterfowl landing in the water. All I had to do was wait for there to be enough light to start shooting.

As soon as I arrived, I made some gear decisions. Assuming that my subjects would be some distance away from me and wanting to get some tight images, I opted for my DX-sensored Nikon D500 camera body with its 1.5X crop factor. In conjunction with my 400mm f2.8 lens and a 1.4X teleconverter, I would be able to shoot with a focal length of 840mm at f4. I attached the teleconverter to the lens, the combo to the camera body, and the setup to a monopod. I was good to go. 

As the sun began to rise, I started to shoot. I took some shots of the flocks as they flew in as well as once they were on the water. As soon as I knew I could push the shutter speed to a fast enough setting that wings would be frozen instead of blurred, I tried my hand at trying to capture individual ducks as they swooped in and landed.

Not long after the pintail arrived, blue wing teal began to show up in greater numbers. Teal are much smaller than pintail and have a reputation for flying fast as they buzz an area. I was ready for them and they did not disappoint. After getting shots of them feeding, swimming, and landing, it was time to catch them in flight. It was challenging but I had some success.

With my main waterfowl targets in the can, so to speak, I shifted gears and began to search for wading birds. The Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is home to several species of wading birds, including Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, the endangered Reddish Heron, Ibis, Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills just to name a few. Going from pond to pond, I found a few of each. My first priority was a nice portrait of a Snowy Egret. I found one in a perfect location, back lit by the sun and standing in front of some brush that served as nice, dark backdrop.

Next up was trying to find a Reddish Heron. As if on cue, one was in a nearby pond and it was putting on quite a show as it began to feed.

Reddish Herons have a unique way of feeding. They spread their wings in order to create shade on the surface of the water so they can better see their prey. They then dart back and forth in what appears to be a frantic, schizophrenic manner and when they isolate there prey they pounce.

With just about everything on my wish list checked off, I was ready to head out. As I drove out, I passed a few more impoundments and stopped when I saw something of interest. A Great Blue Heron napping on a mangrove caught my eye, as did a Little Blue Heron feeding in a large group of wading birds that include just about every conceivable species.

My day was complete and one that was way more productive than I could have hoped. I plan to return on my next trip to the East Central Florida area and can only hope that I am as fortunate as I was on this particular day to have the cooperation of so many birds.

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