Friday, August 26, 2011

Fit for Flight

"A bird's center of mass is toward the front, in between its wings.  This is a crucial aerodynamic arrangement that enables in-flight control of balance and manuevering.  It is also one evidence that birds are not descended from dinosaurs." - Brian Thomas, M.S. in an article Fit for Flight

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Second Time's the Charm

A good action shot depends on all the things mentioned yesterday and, in this case, a rare second chance to get it right.  Is it the same fish?  Why would it still be catchable on a second attempt?  Was it injured and couldn't swim to safety?  There is no way of knowing, but I have seen second chances on a few occasions.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If its not One Thing...

Good lighting, action taking place at a good distance, bird coming toward the camera (not facing away), camera settings correct - everything comes together for a good action shot.  Then.  The osprey misses it's prey!  That is why the really good shots are so rare.  I'll give it a ten for the splash, though...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Belted Kingfisher

This photo represents the best opportunity I have ever had to film a kingfisher while hunting.  They are fairly shy birds and always give me wide berth, often flying to the other side of the river when they pass by me.  I don't think this one was aware I was present.  She was sitting on a dead branch overlooking the river, but out of direct line of sight with me.  They will often sound off with their rattling call as they begin a dive.  That was my tip-off that this one was going to dive.  Finding it through the lens was another matter, and it wasn't until it was emerging from the water that I finally was able to locate it.  Realizing I was there, it moved on to another area.

Monday, August 22, 2011

In Focus

As large a presence as they are, great blue herons can be difficult to focus properly when they are flying directly at you.  That is because their head is so small in relation to the rest of their body and yet their eyes are what you want to be sharp.  I have found it is mostly hit or miss as to whether the eyes are sharp.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Double your Fun

Anybody under forty probably isn't going to get the double entendre in the titles of the last two days.  This photo was in the last newsletter I sent out.  I thought I had posted it on the blog, but I hadn't.

Here is what I postulate happened.  The bigger fish is a rockfish.  It appears to have caught a fish (head-first) that was too large to either swallow or release.  As it struggled with it, it probably drifted too near the surface where the osprey was able to capture it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Double Your Pleasure

A month ago or so, I thought I had seen everything while I was filming an osprey when another passed through the frame with a fish.  I decided to take a couple of quick shots, then return to the first bird, which was closer.  It was only later I discovered that the bird was carrying a fish which had partially swallowed another fish.  I thought I had posted that photo, but if I didn't, I'll post it tomorrow.  This osprey has one-upped that one, however.  I saw it make a steep dive straight into the river and barely get airborne again, when it went back into the water a second time before finally taking off.  While this image is taken from a very long distance, it clearly shows the osprey with a fish in each talon!  Now, I have seen everything - and you have too.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Crossing Swords

Challenges to fishing rights rarely come to blows like this incident.  Most of the time, all the alpha bird has to do is threaten the other and it takes the hint and leaves.  Even in this case, which appeared much more serious, I don't think they actually did each other harm.  But, it did get pretty intense for a while and seemed to go on for an eternity.  I could post several more dramatic photos, but maybe it is time to move on to something else...

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Of all the herons I have seen, the great blue heron seems most prone to defending a large territory.  The upper heron claimed an area encompassing most of the river in front of the location where I often film.  Both shores.  It had to meet all challenges or risk losing the entire hunting grounds.  Snowy egrets and tricolor herons seem to have a territory not much larger than personal space while, with the great egrets I have seen, territory doesn't seem to be an issue at all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Close Encounters

The event had every appearance of being a breeding display between two great blue herons.  I was mistaken, however, as it turned out to be a fight over fishing territory.  In fact, I have never seen a more serious fight between two herons before or since.   Depending on the time of year, a GBH can be very magnanimous, sharing fishing grounds with other herons or extremely territorial, not allowing another heron anywhere near it's haunt.  In this instance, it turned out to be the latter.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Photo Considerations

Some of the considerations that went into the treatment of this photo may be helpful in your picture taking.  Exclude as much distraction as possible.  If you can do that as you are taking the photo, great.  If not, crop to exclude any unneccessary information.  I decided to emphasize the symmetry by dividing the image exactly in half.   This will usually cause a photo to look static, but I don't think that happens in this case.  Leave some room for the moving subject to travel out of the photo.  If I had cropped too much on the left, it would lead the viewer's eye right out of the picture.  Think about what your eyes did when you viewed the photo.  Mine keep entering the photo from the right, travel to the seagull, then loop back to start all over again. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What Do They Know?

Let me preface today's entry by saying the quality of a lot of the photos I post here are marginal at best.  Many are taken from a long distance (like the one above).  Despite that, I share them because of the often fascinating behavior I see while I am filming.  So, please bear that in mind.

The other day while I was filming on the Patuxent, I was aware of a great blue heron on the end of a dock up river and an osprey sitting on a device used to swing loads from the dock onto a boat.  At one point, the great blue heron began to vocalize in single hoarse squawks every fifteen seconds or so.  Then he proceeded to walk from the end of the dock to a point underneath the spot where the osprey was sitting and appeared to engage it in conversation.

Bird behavior can be highly interesting as you try to determine what you are witnessing.  Are these two very different species able to communicate at some level, if not by voice perhaps by body language?  I'm pretty sure behavioral scientists would say no.

After pausing for a few moments, the heron continued walking past the osprey and, in the last frame I took, the osprey is watching after the heron as if it was thinking, "I wonder what that was all about."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Talon Washing

We have all probably experienced how good it feels to clean fish slime and the stink of fish off our hands after handling them.  Osprey, which eat fish almost exclusively, have developed a unique method for dealing with the problem.  They will glide low over water, lower their legs, and drag them for a surprising distance until their flight is close to stalling.  Then, they will pull out, get their speed up, and do the same thing perhaps three or four times until their extremities are clean.  Those of you who have swished your hands quickly through the water at the side of a lake to clean off slime know exactly how effective this can be.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Continual Bickering

Hardly ever does it come to blows, but the posturing goes on all the time.  The upper bird is an osprey, the lower a sub-adult eagle.  Yes, the eagle is upside down or, if you prefer, downside up.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Turkey Vulture

Birds are generally regarded as having a poor sense of smell.  This is not true of the turkey vulture, however, which has a keen ability to smell carrion carried on the wind.  In this photo, you can actually see through the bird's nostrils.  Both the turkey and black vultures (in fact, all vultures) have no feathers on their head.  This allows them to feed deep inside carrion without getting feathers fowled.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Clean-up Committee

Black vultures find carrion by sight and, on the river, they are looking for a meal such as this large catfish that washed up on shore.  They have substantial toes, but weak claws and cannot carry anything away.  They will put their foot down, like the one on the left, and hold the carrion down while they rip pieces of flesh from the carcass.  Sometimes, they will work as a team, as these two may be doing, with each pulling at opposite ends to disassemble the carcass more easily.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On the Hunt

Snowy egrets use a variety of foraging techniques.  The one depicted here is commonly employed.  Note how much of the bird's neck is submerged.  Being low in the water may increase the angle of refraction and improve their ability to peer into the water and spot prey.  As long as I was still, they would ignore me and come surprisingly close to where I was standing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pileated Woodpecker

I happened to look out the window a few days ago and realized the pileated woodpecker male was just off the yard on the edge of the woods tearing a fallen log apart looking for bugs.  That is one of their characteristics to keep in mind if you are looking for them - they are just as likely to be on or near the ground as they are to be high in the forest canopy.  It is difficult to get good shots of them when the trees are leafed out, since leaves always seem to be blocking some part of them.  I shot this handheld through a window with a telephoto I usually put on a tripod.  It is the next best thing to not getting any shot.  But, one of these days, the planets will align...

Sunday, August 7, 2011


The birds on the left and right in this silhouette are double-crested cormorants.  The one on the left is performing a breeding display termed "gargling,"  where the head is thrown back to reveal the bird's brightly-colored gular pouch.  While not as large, it is the same type of pouch as that of pelicans.  The cormorant on the right was the only other one in sight and is probably the object of the display.  It is also displaying an "abnormal" head-down posture.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Smarter than the Average Bear

On one foggy, early morning, when I got to the river, there was a large tree trunk slowly drifting down river on the tide with a great blue heron sitting on it looking for prey.  When you think about it, that is pretty amazing behavior.  The log represented an opportunity to hunt in a normally inaccessible part of the river and the heron recognized this fact.  Seems to me, it demonstrates greater problem solving reasoning than a bird would normally be given credit for performing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Feeding Technique

This gull is using a technique for capturing prey that is most commonly seen in storm-petrels termed "foot-pattering," where the bird doesn't enter the water.  By pattering, it is able to slow forward motion long enough to grab it's prey without landing.  It's a technique they also use when toothy bluefish are in a feeding frenzy and landing could result in the loss of a foot.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Social Experiment?

Vultures tend to hang together in social groups.  If you only see one, it is usually because the rest just haven't come into sight yet or they are spread out over a large swath of land and it actually isn't flying alone.  They dine together and sleep together and, it turns out, they also bathe together.  This is the only time I have ever seen black vultures take a bath.  They entered the water by two's and three's, wading up to their bellies and splashing around like any other bird.  I really didn't think they took baths.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Courtship Ritual

I witnessed this display between two great blue herons one morning.  One of the notable things to me was the great difference in size, which usually isn't very apparent.  The female is the smaller bird.  This also occurred after the nesting season.  The display went on for quite some time as they moved up and down the shoreline.  I have altered the image quite a bit in an exploration of how to render it less photographic and more painterly.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Nesting Material

Osprey obtain a surprising amount of branches for their nest from the river itself.  I have frequently tracked what I thought was an osprey descending to catch a fish and, instead, seen it pull a branch out of the water.  Nest building for them is an ongoing activity that continues until the migrate in the fall.

Monday, August 1, 2011


For dramatic early morning and late day lighting, subjects that are oriented in a north-south direction work best.  The patuxent is situated like that and produces opportunities for dramatic cross lighting up or down the shore.  In addition, standing on the eastern shoreline provides early morning frontal lighting so that birds are well lit.