Image Spotlight: Vermillion Flycatcher (2)

I recently returned from a trip to South Texas and while there I visited one of my old hotspots–Llano Grande State Park (i.e., Big Plains State Park). I have a love-dislike relationship with this park. On the positive side, it’s a great place to see and photograph many different bird species. In addition, if one is lucky, alligators or bobcats may be seen. I’ve had luck in the past with the alligators but the bobcat continue to elude me. What I dislike about the park is the large number of joggers, bikers, and portrait photographers that always seem to make their presence when the action is good, which inevitably scares the birds away. On more than one occasion, I’ve been photographing birds in beautiful light only to be interrupted by a portrait photographer attempting to take homecoming or quinceanera (15th birthday) photos. In case you are starting to wonder about that rant, yes it is a state park and they have just as much right to enjoy it as a bird watcher or photographer; BUT, a little common courtesy seems to be in order here. It’s a 230 acre wetland park so if someone is already photographing birds where you desire to take portraits…respect the photographer already there and find another place for the portraits…just don’t setup in the same location and start shooting.

OK, that’s off my chest. Lets get to the images in this post. The Vermillion Flycatcher’s winter range includes the Rio Grande Valley (South Texas). For the past 3 years I have seen this bird flying from perch to perch near the big pond behind Llano Grande’s park headquarters. Unfortunately, the perches within photographic distance near this area are man made; but hey, sometimes it’s good to photograph wildlife that shows the hand of man. I’d prefer a natural perch, but when photographing at a state park, one rarely has control of his or her shooting conditions.

Vermillion Flycatcher

Vermillion Flycatcher | Canon 7D MkII | ef 500/4.5 | ISO 6400  |  White Balance: Cloudy

On this particular day, the light was terrible, i.e. it was dull, overcast, and gray. In order to achieve a high enough shutter speed to freeze the wings in these light conditions, I would need to bump the ISO on my camera to 6400 and even then, the shutter speeds were not as high as I would desire. I had observed this vermillion flycatcher frequently visiting this perch as it fed on insects. So, as it made it’s rounds to a different perch I setup my shooting position on this post and then waited. It was a short wait. From this post, the vermillion flycatcher would take off, attempt to catch an insect (often successfully), then fly back and repeat the sequence. Understanding this behavioral pattern, I prefocused on the perch and upon the vermillion’s return, I depressed the shutter and let the 7D MkII capture its 8 frames per second. I liked the two shared here.

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Vermillion Flycatcher | Canon 7D MkII | ef 500/4.5 | ISO 6400  |  White Balance: Cloudy

I hope to capture this bird in better light next year but for now, I’ll have to be content with these two. Until next time, good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN

For information on the equipment used to capture these images, please click on the gear recommendations tab.

ImageSpotlight: Great Blue Heron with Prey

Great Blue Heron.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5

Great Blue Heron. South Padre Island, Texas.

During a quick visit to Texas, I ventured out one morning to South Padre Island. I’ve always had good luck at this location and the morning would not let me down. While a bit slow by a “good day” standard, my patience was rewarded as this Great Blue Heron began to hunt/fish in front of me. I managed a series of images of this particular sequence and this is one I particularly liked with the heron’s wing position and the blood trailing from fish to water.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN

Gear I used to make this shot:

Canon 7D – I used v1 of this camera body which is now my backup to the 7DMII.

Canon 500mm–  I used version 1 of this lens which is no longer available now that vII is.

Gitzo Tripod – I own and still use the Gitzo 1325 which has not been manufactured for years now. However, I have linked a good on you can purchase today (other options on my gear recommendations page).

Wimberley WH200– an essential piece of gear for long lenses.

Wimberley P40– without this you can’t mount the lens to the tripod.

 

ImageSpotlight: Black-Crested Titmouse

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Black-crested Titmouse.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm

I returned to South Texas last December and visited my favorite photographic ranch, the Santa Clara, owned by Dr. Beto Gutierrez. I had the good fortune of photographing there the last year before I moved out of state so I know how special this ranch is for photographers. Dr. Gutierrez has poured his passion into making this the prime destination for anyone wanting to photograph the gems of South Texas. This Black Crested Titmouse came to have a drink and I was able to capture this wonderful reflection. The raised crest made this one extra special.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN

ImageSpotlight: Northern Bobwhite Quail

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Northern Bobwhite Quail.  Canon 7D MkII | Canon 70-200/2.8 + 1.4x | ISO 1600 | f7.1

 

What a way to end 2015. I found myself back in South Texas on the Santa Clara ranch and once again, that ranch did not disappoint. I still haven’t viewed all of the photographs as I’ve not downloaded all of them yet; however, I really enjoyed the reflection of these 3 northern bobwhite quail and just had to share. I cropped this to a panoramic format to emphasize the reflection in the pond. While the original format looks nice, I think the panorama is a better portrayal.

Speaking of reflections, as you look back on your 2015, I hope that you accomplished all of your personal and photographic goals. As you look toward 2016, challenge yourself to stretch your photography skills. Whether that is to learn a new technique, travel to a new destination, or focus on that nemesis subject, may 2016 be your year.

Until next year…good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN

ImageSpotlight: Least Tern

Least Tern. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

Least Tern. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

Florida sure is a bird photographer’s paradise. I traveled to Bonita Springs last June and was met with photographic opportunities everywhere I looked, from Ding Darling NWR to a popular beach near hotels. The image featured here was near a nesting site behind a row of hotels on a fairly busy beach. The bird nesting areas are roped off to allow the birds to nest without being disturbed but to be honest, I think the taped areas need to be larger as people routinely walk right up next to the taped area and are met with birds dive bombing their heads to let them know they are too close to their nest.

The least tern is a small bird and I knew I would have to get close to get the shot I wanted, even with the 500mm on a Canon 7D. However, I did not want to disturb them on their nests. So, when I was probably 40 yards away from this pair of birds I got on my belly and began a slow methodical crawl toward them. I don’t know how long it took but it seemed like forever as I inched my way closer and closer. Eventually, I felt I was close enough and began focusing on nesting birds while keeping an eye out for interactions. The birds had grown accustomed to my presence and paid no attention to this blob of a figure laying on the sand. I noticed the interaction of this pair of birds and waited for the right moment. The result is featured here.

The key to this image was concern for the subject and a lot of patience to begin a low crawl way outside of photographic range.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting –KEVIN

ImageSpotlight: Osprey with Prey

Osprey With Prey. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

Osprey With Prey. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | ISO 400

A few weeks ago I made a trip to Bonita Springs, Florida. I have to say Florida did feel like a bird photographer’s paradise as everywhere I went, photo opportunities presented themselves, whether that was at nearby Ding Darling NWR or simply a spot by the road where wading and shorebirds gathered to hunt during low tide. On this particular afternoon I visited Lover’s Key State Park with the intention of hiking one of their marsh trails. However, I changed my mind at the last minute and decided to photograph on the beach at Lover’s Key instead. I knew terns and skimmers were nesting on the beach and I hoped to get some images of them flying by. Before anyone starts to wonder, I never made it to the nesting area on this afternoon but I did another day and yes, I kept my distance from the nest area itself. The nest area is roped off to keep people from disturbing the birds on the nest. However, it is a public beach and people can walk right up along the rope. In my opinion, that’s still too close as the birds will feel threatened and give you a flyby (witnessed it several times over the course of a few days). But that is a story for another day. Let’s get back to the image in this post.

As I mentioned, I was on my way to photograph the terns/skimmers and was carrying my tripod mounted 500mm lens slung over my shoulder across a bridge/boardwalk connecting Lover’s Key to the beach. When I reached the part where the bridge met the sand, I was greeted by this Osprey clutching a fish and settling in to start dining. Shocked, I feared my movements getting the tripod off my shoulder and legs spread would cause the Osprey to fly away. To make matters worse, I heard someone saying “behind you, behind you” as I was trying to spread the tripod legs. It turned out to be a lady on a bike and she was none to pleased that I had not moved out of her way, specifically that I did not move to my right because the bike rack was to my left. Now I really feared the Osprey would take flight given her noise and movements but to my good fortune, the Osprey’s attention was fixed on the fish since it was still alive and flopping. With the lady now gone, I began taking images…lots of images.

I took some insurance photos from a standing position but I knew the best perspective would be low to the ground so I eased my way into a low kneeling position and fired away. I would capture some images from the prone position as well but thought the low-kneeling images were best given this location and backgrounds. To say the least, lady luck was with me on this particular afternoon.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN

ImageSpotlight: Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO 200

Indigo Bunting. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO 200

I’ve been after this bird for a number of years. When I lived in South Texas, these birds migrated through the area in the winter time. Now that I am in Georgia, the indigo bunting spends its summer months in the area. A few weeks ago I noticed a bird at my feeder that I had never seen on my property. It turned out to be the rose-breasted grosbeak, which migrates through the area. I setup hoping to get their photograph but they have since moved further north in their range. To my surprise, this beautiful blue bird visited my feeder instead. I was able to capture a documentation image but nothing I was excited about. Given that this is an afternoon feeder, the past two weekend afternoons has found me out back hoping for the bunting to land on my perch while the light was good. With the tall pines casting long shadows, I have a limited time before the perch is in the shadow and the background lit by the sun. After a few weekend attempts, I finally got a cooperative bunting to land where I wanted at the hour I wanted. And finally, an old nemesis was now a part of my portfolio. The summer has only begun so I hope to get many more but it sure feels good to have captured the image shared in this post.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN