We all love our Moms. They love us too, feed us, protect us, teach us, and make sure we go out into the world ready for all its challenges.
Bird Moms do the same. In celebration of all Mothers everywhere, here are three recent photos of bird Moms raising their young.
Great Egret Mom feeding chicks – That’s a large chunk of sushi – those baby birds will be full if they eat all that!
Common Gallinule Mom and Chicks – These hatch ready to swim. Mom protectively takes them around the local pond, very careful to avoid gators lurking nearby.
Wood Stork Mom and chicks
These photos were all made this year at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida. Wild birds nest there above the Alligator breeding marsh, where the gators keep many natural predators away from the nests. Spring is a wonderful time to see all the action.
I had a delightful visit to Gatorland yesterday morning. Tom M. and Jim B. were also there. I started following Jim’s blog (sorry, no longer available) years ago and we’ve been web friends for a while. I’m happy I finally got to meet him in person!
Anhinga gathering nest material
The nesting season is going full blast now, and this gives everyone a chance to see and photograph wild birds in breeding colors doing nesting season behaviors. Quite an opportunity!
We saw Anhingas, Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, Cormorants, Great Egrets, Common Gallinules, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored Herons, and Woodstorks all in various stages of breeding. Little ones in the nest are quite common and some of the baby Great Egrets have grown into “teenagers” already and will be fledging shortly.
Nesting Double-crested Cormorant – Can you tell where this bird gets its name?
I’ll be with you in a moment just as soon as my feathers dry… – This Wood Stork was soaking in the morning sun
Keep an eye out for backlit birds – they can also be beautiful.
Great Glowing Egret
Gatorland is an exceptional place to practice your “birds-in-flight” skills. Patient observation lets you figure out movement patterns and get ready. I waited several minutes with my camera in “BIF” mode (high shutter speed, continuous auto focus) until this Tri-Colored took off. I didn’t expect it to grab a little fish on the way, but I was glad it did!
Breakfast to go – A Tri-colored Heron scoops up a minnow on the fly
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. If you haven’t been to Gatorland yet, go. And if you haven’t checked out Jim’s blog (sorry, no longer available) yet, go do that too. Then – go make some photos!
Thursday night, Tom M. invited me to meet him at Gatorland. We both showed up at 7:30 Friday morning to see what’s changed from our visit on February 20th. The answer is a lot! Last time, it was mostly the Great Egrets starting to breed. This time several more species are dressed up in their fancy colors and plumage and building nests. And the Great Egret chicks are starting to hatch. Here are some photos from the trip.
I saw this male Anhinga getting ready to take off and managed to make a frame just as it left the tree. You can see the breeding season blue around his eye as well as some of the crest on his head.
Anhinga close up
Cormorant eyes are always pretty in the right light. They add a striking blue mouth during nesting season. Some of the Cormorants are already on nests. This pair looked like they were just about to “get busy”.
Tri-colored Herons also add a dash of blue for breeding season. They’re starting to show off with courting behaviors and poses to attract mates.
Tri-colored Heron displaying
And here’s a couple of Great Egret siblings huddled up close to Mama in the nest. I’m not sure you can call these young chicks without a full set of feathers beautiful, but they are cute.
Mama and two chicks
Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Wood Storks and other species usually also nest in the this rookery – so we still have those to look forward to. It’s a wonderful time to visit Gatorland, the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, or your local bird rookery. Don’t miss this chance to see nature in action!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I met Tom M., and Lee A. at Gatorland again last Thursday. During breeding season I like to go at least once a month to keep up with the activity there. It’s a very nice experience over time to see different species nesting, eggs hatching, and young birds growing and fledging. It was our coldest morning of the season so far, with temperatures a few degrees below freezing. I know all of you that are suffering in colder climates are thinking that’s not cold – but down here we think it’s pretty chilly.
Anyway, the Great Egrets are wearing their fancy plumes and colors and looking for mates. One of the advantages of the photographer’s early entry program at Gatorland is that the light can be very nice in the morning. It certainly was on this bird and it was displaying a bit too. I waited for the right moment, and made this image.
Vicki: “I was wondering about the heron you posted. It has only one leg. Was it missing a leg or is it the way they hold them? I spotted one near me last week and when I got the photos on the computer, I discovered it was only using one leg…even after it moved around in the tree. So I was wondering if you know if it is a normal pose for them to do that.”
Ed: “I can’t be 100% sure since I didn’t see this heron’s other leg, but it is a typical pose to tuck one leg up against their body.”
In this new image, also of a Black Crowned Night Heron, you can see the other leg, since it’s not quite hidden in the feathers.
Black-crowned Night-Heron Juvenile
This last photo is my latest selfie. For several years I’ve been looking for situations like this where the geometry is right to see my reflection in the Alligator’s eye and get close enough to photograph it. This one is a tight crop, but I think it’s my best so far!
Gator eye selfie – Not photoshop – that’s the actual reflection in its eye of me standing on the boardwalk.
And now about the blog. I’ve been a bit aggravated for some time with the performance of my hosting service – the load times seemed slow and I’ve also had intermittent, unexplained outages So finally last week I decide to move to a managed WordPress hosting service. It seems to be working very well so far. This is my first post on the new system and I hope that everything works well – including the email subscription function. I’m only telling you this in case you notice any issues. If so, please let me know so I can work on them.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
If you’ve meant to go to Gatorland in Orlando, Florida to see the wild birds that nest in the rookery there, you’ve just about missed your chance for this year.
I went by last Saturday with Mahesh S. and Greg N. to see what was going on (and to renew my annual photographer’s pass). There were still one or two Great Egret nests with chicks, but the other young birds have hatched, grown, fledged, and moved out. Nesting activity will start-up again in mid to late February next year. After this weekend, you’ll also have to visit during regular hours since the early entry program ends on June 15th. In the mean time, Gatorland’s still a great place to get close access to a number of Florida bird species.
Great Egret ABOAS*
And of course, it’s always a great place to see Alligators.
Like an iceberg – There’s more under the surface than you can normally see from above.
And there are occasionally some nice avian visitors too.
The annual photographer pass program at Gatorland in Kissimmee, Florida started again on Friday, and Keith H. and I were the first ones there. We saw Great Egrets, a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Black-crowned Night-Herron, Wood Storks, Anhingas, Boat-tailed Grackles, and a few other species.
Female Boat-tailed Grackle – a common bird in uncommon light
Great Egret and reflection – all dressed up in formal wear for the start of breeding season
Black-crowned Night-Heron – a nice bonus, since I don’t see these very often
And of course you can also see Alligators in the park. They’re starting to breed too – we heard quite a few bellows.
Very still gator and tree reflection
With the photographer pass you can get into the park at 7:30am Thursday – Sunday and stay until dusk on Saturday. This lets you photograph the nesting birds with nicer light and no tourists. It greatly improves your chances of getting good photos of the birds and their breeding behavior in the rookery. These are wild birds that choose to nest in the area because of the protection offered by alligators from other predators such as snakes and raccoons. They’re acclimated to people so you can get quite close to many of them. The Great Egrets are already courting and building nests – they seem to be the earliest breeders. The Wood Storks are getting started too. Later in the year you’ll also see Snowy and Cattle Egrets, cormorants, and if you’re lucky maybe some other species breeding.
Gatorland is a great place to visit at this time of year. If you’re in town for a short while, you can also buy a one day photo pass to get in early. Check it out! Click on the photos above to go to Flickr where you can see larger versions. You can also see more photos from Gatorland in this set on Flickr. And you can read my previous posts about Gatorland at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
Ansel Adams said that the “negative is the score, and the print is the performance”. In modern terms, the RAW file is the negative and the processed jpg / print is the performance. Ansel was famous for re-printing his photos to try to get the best possible image from his negatives. Some of his later prints are thought to be better than earlier ones as he experimented and gained knowledge about how to “perform” the print.
All photographers should take this to heart and not be satisfied with previous processed versions of their photos. I like to look through my Lightroom catalog sometimes for images that may merit some re-work.
This morning I reprocessed a photo that I made last October at Viera Wetlands. Below is a series of images that show you a progression from the original images to the final result. Look in the captions for details on what I did, and scroll to the bottom of the post to see the most recent version. You can also click on these to see larger versions.
This is the first image I made (RAW, unprocessed). It’s focused on the tree and the two birds are also in sharp focus. Because of depth of field, the moon is out of focus. The color balance could be better.
This is the second image I made to solve the problem with the moon focus.
Step 3: And this was the processed version I posted to Flickr last October. I masked in the in-focus moon, did some sharpening and noise reduction, but didn’t spend too much time on it. It’s since gotten a lot of views, but re-looking at it now, I’m not happy with several things in the photo (e.g. color balance, noise reduction, masking) and this morning I decided to go back and reprocess it from the original RAW files.
And this is the new version that I posted to Flickr this morning. In Photoshop, I was much more careful masking in the in-focus moon. I then created a meticulous selection of the blue sky so I could use it in the follow on steps. Then I applied noise reduction just to the blue sky and sharpening just to the birds, moon, and tree. I also used the Topaz Adjust filter just on the birds, moon and tree. Finally, back in Lightroom I adjusted the white balance off of a sample on the Ibis. I like the vertical crop better as well as the color balance, sharpness, etc.
I visited the Rookery in St. Augustine for the first time this year with two other members of the Photography Interest Group. Things are really hopping!!!
Cattle Egret pair in breeding colors: These go from plain white to very colorful during breeding season. This pair was hiding back in the bushes and it was difficult to get a clean image, but they eventually moved a bit right before I made this photo.
We saw Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Woodstorks, Spoonbills, Little Blue Herons, Tri-Color Herons, and of course – alligators. Some are just starting to build nests and breed. Others (the Great Egrets) already have good size chicks in the nest.
Great Egret and chicks
There are very few places that you can get this close to tolerant, wild birds. It’s wonderful for both experienced and beginner bird photographers. If you haven’t been by yet, now is the time.
I was at Viera Wetlands yesterday and came up on this scene. The pair of birds was about 30 feet away and I was using a long telephoto lens (Sigma 150 – 500 OS, @ 500mm) and shooting hand held. To keep my shutter speed high (1/1000 sec), I had my aperture set to f/8.
Under these conditions, the depth of field (DOF) was so shallow (about 6 inches) that I couldn’t get both birds in focus at the same time. I could have stopped down to f/16, which would increase the DOF to about 12 inches, but that still might not have been enough – and the risk of motion blur would increase when the shutter speed slowed down.
So how can you overcome such shallow depth of field? Here’s how I did it:
Make two exposures, one focused on the front bird and one focused on the rear one.
In Lightroom, do your preliminary adjustments so the images’ appearance matches as closely as possible. You want to keep the background around the birds as similar as possible in the two images.
Open both in Photoshop, and move them into a single file as layers. Put the base image (the one with the front bird in focus) in the background layer. The top layer then has the rear bird in focus.
Select both layers and use the Edit/Auto-Align Layers to line things up.
Insert a Layer Mask (hide all) on the top layer.
Now you’re all set to paint the in focus rear bird into the image with the front one in focus. Select the layer mask and use a white brush color to paint the rear bird in. If you make a mistake or need to back something out you can change your brush color to black to erase the top layer. You can also play with the brush hardness and opacity to feather things in.
Once you’re happy with the result, flatten the image and make your final adjustments.
“But Ed,” you say “isn’t this cheating?” It depends. If you’re a photojournalist reporting on Great Egrets in Viera Wetlands and how close they often come to each other, then yes it might be. Journalists must meet ethical standards. On the artistic side, you’re trying to represent what your eyes (which have a greater DOF) or mind sees. So in this situation it isn’t cheating. You’re using the tools available to make the image you want.
“But Ed,” you say “this is too much work!” It depends. Some images are worth the effort and many are not. There’s software you can buy to automate this sort of thing for you. Photoshop can do it too. But the automated software requires very careful set up and in most cases a tripod, and many exposures with small changes in focus for each one. In this situation, I only needed two photos, one for each bird. Alignment between the images isn’t critical since I’m only using a small portion of the second one. So it’s fairly easy to show the pair of Egrets and not be distracted by having one out of focus.
Lynn and I went out to Viera Wetlands this morning to survey the wildlife that’s around and so I could get a little more field testing in on the Nikon D7000. Once again, this great birding spot didn’t disappoint us and although the activity and number of birds were down a bit from their peak during the nesting season, we found plenty to see and photograph.
I’m shooting the D7000 in RAW & fine jpg mode, but using only using the jpg files until later when RAW is supported by ACR and Nikon CaptureNX2. So far, it’s definitely living up to my expectations. The combination of more pixels and improved sensitivity is a great for bird photography. Here’s one shot I did early in the morning, before the almost full moon set:
Great Egret, Ibis, and Moon, Nikon D7000, ISO 100
On this photo, I cheated a bit. The depth of field on the Sigma 150 – 500 @ 500mm and f/7.1 is too shallow to hold the moon in focus along with the tree and birds. So I made a second exposure focused on the moon and masked it in using Photoshop.
I set up the camera in auto-ISO mode and let it respond to the varying lighting conditions so that I could see how it performed over a range of ISO sensitivities. At ISOs up to 1000, there is very little noise. I need to do some comparisons with RAW files, but so far, it looks to me like the ISO performance of the D7000 is at least a 1/2 stop better than the D90. Here is one example from today at ISO 900:
A pair of Limpkins share a snail snack, Nikon D7000, ISO 900 (Try repeating that caption 3 times fast!)
Here is another, un-cropped photo of a Great Blue Heron:
Great Blue Heron keeps watch, ISO 280
One of the comments on these photos today on Flickr was “You’re lucky to be in an area with amazing wildlife.” I couldn’t agree more. And that’s just one of the many ways that I am so very lucky.
You can click on the photos above to view them on Flickr. I’ve also uploaded several more in this D7000 set on Flickr (sorry, no longer available). Many of them are in high-resolution so that you can better judge the image / camera quality. You can also view more photos I’ve made at Viera Wetlands here in this set.