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Posts Tagged ‘birds in flight’

This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) looked to me like a stealth aircraft as it flew low over the water from one side of a small pond to the other on Monday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

 Great Blue Heron
© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.
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When is a cluttered background so distracting that it draws attention away from the primary subject? When I have the luxury of time, I will normally attempt to compose my shots so that the background fades into the background as a creamy blur. As a wildlife photographer, though, I am often photographing live subjects that are likely to flee as soon as they become aware of my presence. Frequently I barely have time to bring the camera up to my eye and am forced to react rapidly and instinctively—I just don’t have time to think about the background.

Yesterday as I was walking along the Mount Vernon Trail in Alexandria, Virginia parallel to the Potomac River, I spotted a bird at the very top of a distant tree. Earlier in the day I had seen an osprey in a similar position, so I initially assumed it was another osprey. I had just zoomed in on the bird when it exploded out of the tree into the air. From the way that it was flying, I realized that it was probably an eagle or a hawk. I tracked the bird, which I believe is a Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) as it flew behind some trees and eventually into the clear blue skies.

Here are my three favorite shots of the encounter. Two of them are cluttered and one has a plain blue background. Which one do you like most? I am not bothered by the branches in the first two shots and like the way that they help to give a sense of context to the action that is depicted. The third shot shows some of the wonderful details of the beautiful hawk, but it seems a bit more sterile to me. (For the record, the first shot is probably my favorite of the three images.)

Are cluttered backgrounds ok? Like so many factors in photography, the correct response appears to be that it depends on the specific circumstances.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-taile Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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I was looking high and in the distance and the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) came in low and was almost on top of me before I saw it yesterday morning at Huntley Meadows Park. I had to scramble and pull back on my zoom lens to capture this image, which barely fit into the frame of the viewfinder. (The EXIF data for the shot indicate that it was shot at 309mm of my 150-600mm Tamron telephoto zoom lens.)

I feel like I should have been able to take better advantage of the situation that presented itself, but I am not disappointed. As I have noted repeatedly, any day with a bald eagle is a great day.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Green Herons (Butorides virescens) have so much personality packed into their small bodies. This one almost seemed to be smiling as it flew by me last weekend  at Huntley Meadows Park. Perhaps it was just my imagination running away with me.

Green Heron

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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For wildlife photographers, I would argue, a successful image is most often the result of some combination of luck, skill, and equipment. We inhabit a world of tremendous uncertainty and have to be hypervigilant, never knowing when “the moment” will arrive when we will be forced to make a series of split-second decisions.

One of those moments arrived for me yesterday as I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge, Virginia. Although I was quite aware that there were bald eagles in the area, because some of the trails in the refuge near eagle nesting sites were closed, I was primarily chasing dragonflies and butterflies, so I had my 180mm macro lens mounted on my camera. I knew that I would be doing a lot of walking, so in order to minimize weight, I was not carrying my trusty (and heavy) 150-600mm zoom lens.

I was following a trail that ran parallel to the waters of Occoquan Bay and was a little frustrated that the view was frequently obstructed by heavy vegetation. When I reached an opening in the vegetation I looked out at the water and suddenly a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) burst into view out of nowhere. The eagle was almost at eye level and seemed to be struggling a little to gain altitude. As I later was able to ascertain, it had just caught a fish.

The logical part of my brain might have told me that a 180mm lens is not long enough to capture an image of an eagle in flight, but think I was acting on an instinctive level at that moment and I was able to snap off some shots before the eagle disappeared out of sight. It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off and I didn’t know for sure if I had been able to capture the moment. It was only when I reviewed the images on my computer that I realized that I had gotten my best eagle shots ever.

As is the case with most of my bird images, I cropped the first image to bring the subject in a bit closer. However, I am also including an uncropped version of the same image. It boggles my mind to think that I filled up that much of the frame with an eagle in flight with a 180mm lens.

Luck was hugely important; skill played a role, though it was my quick reaction time that was critical; and equipment turned out to be less important that I would have anticipated.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

 

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Great Egrets (Ardea alba) are so graceful in flight—it’s like watching an aerial ballet performance. I spotted this egret early this morning at Huntley Meadows Park and captured this image as it was taking off from atop a tree on which it was perched.

Great Egret

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’ve seen crows harassing hawks and eagles, but I’d never seen a crow being chased off by another bird until this past Friday at Huntley Meadows Park, when I witnessed a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying after what appeared to be a crow. After the heron caught up and forced the crow to depart, the heron appeared to be squawking a few words of warning not to return.

heron and crow

heron and crow

heron and crow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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