Bird Art

Shot of the Month – June 2017

Snowy Egret, Ding Darling NWR (0241)

So no, I don’t have a studio — this image was actually shot in the wilds of nature at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.  These lovely Snowy Egrets (SEs) had gathered en masse with a large collection of other herons and assorted egrets during a feeding frenzy along a dark mangrove channel.  In order to properly expose for the pure white bird, in bright sunlight, I had to significantly underexpose the shot — which produces this dramatic “studio” look.

This image was shot in December when the SEs are beginning to morph into their exquisite mating plumage — during this period they develop long wispy feathers on their backs, necks and heads.  As the season progresses the coloration on their faces will transition from yellow to reddish.  And those bright yellow feet will take on a richer orange-yellow hue.

In the late 19th century Snow Egrets were almost wiped out as they were decimated by hunters collecting the breeding plumes for use in women’s hats.  In 1886 these plumes fetched $32/ounce which was twice the value of gold at that time.  During the “Plume Boom” hundreds of millions of birds were killed — for example from 1901 to 1910 over 14 million tons of feathers were shipped to the United Kingdom with a value of 20 million pounds.  Wow, that’s a lot of feathers. (source)

And a lot of dead birds.

Fortunately, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 curtailed much of this slaughter and today the population of Snowy Egrets and other herons have improved quite a bit.

Snowy Egrets eat mainly fish, frogs, worms, mice, crustaceans and insects.  They typically stalk prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling those brightly colored feet, flushing prey into view.  They will also sometimes catch prey while “dip-fishing” as they fly with their feet just over the water.

Snowy Egrets are are permanent residents in most of South and Central America.  In the US they can be permanent residents along the Atlantic coast north to Virginia Beach, Virginia, along the Gulf Coast and along the Pacific lowlands from central California southward.  During the breeding season snow egrets can be found as far north as Rhode Island.

With its lovely, delicate and refined looks one could easily imagine a Snowy Egret as a runway model.  Rather ironic given that high fashion almost wiped out this elegant bird.

Silly, terrifying humans…

Until next month.

 

 

Nikon D4s, Nikon 200-400 mm (@ 200mm), f/4, 1/4000, ISO 400, -1.5 EV

 

 

Bald Eagle

A Bald Eagle catching fish at Seabeck, WA

Bam Bam

Shot of the Month – May 2017


Bighorn Sheep, Yellowstone NP (5387)This month we visit with a ram that fully embraces his name – the Bighorn Sheep (BHS).  We found this big fella in Yellowstone National Park and our guide mentioned that this was one the largest set of horns that he had seen in 30 years of visiting the park.

As I discussed in a previous post, “Bighorn Sheep” is a rather chauvinistic name for the species as the females also have horns, though they are not nearly as big, nor curved.  The lads get all the attention, a-gain.

These rams definitely know that they are impressive — this one walked by me with his shoulders back, chest out and his head raised, as if saying, “Yes, soak it in, I am magnificent.”

Those horns can way 30 pounds, equal to the weight of all the other bones in the ram’s body.  A ram can weigh from 174 to 319 pounds so those horns can make up about 10% of their total body weight.

Mature males spend most of the year as part of a bachelor flock.  Ahhh, those were the days…

The rams join the female groups in November when the mating season begins. The BHS rams are most famous for their epic head clashing battles to win the right to mate with the females.

These fellows will smash their heads together as they hurl themselves at each other at 20 mph — generating about 800 pounds of force – sixty times more force than needed to kill a human.  The rams can survive these violent collisions because their skulls have two layer of bones above the brain that act as shock absorbers.  The sound of these collisions can be heard from a mile away.

These battles can last for 24 hours until one sheep decides that he has had enough and simply walks away. Wait, that’s it??!!  I expected a denouement with a bit more operatic panache given the fury and scale of the spectacle.

Oh well.  The clash of the Mountain Titans ends with a quiet, “I’m out.”  I suppose that there is a certain civility in that.

 

You can catch the mind numbing show here.  (I wasn’t able to embed the video)

 

The prelude to the fight can be seen below (very nice footage).

 

In case you were wondering, the title of this post is a nod to Bam Bam Rubble…an adorable character from my youth that seems to capture the simple essence of a bighorn ram’s approach to life…

 

Until next month…m

 

Nikon D4S, Nikon 600mm f/4, 1/800 sec, ISO 800, +0.5 EV

It Takes a Village…

Shot of the Month – April 2017

Elephant, Botswana (006)

 

Another shot for the “Awwwl” Collection.  For those of you not keeping score at home, this collection includes huddling hyrax, a burrowing owl, loon chicks with mom, and a pika.  This image is a favorite among moms everywhere and is one my most popular cards.  I photographed this adorable baby elephant in Botswana.

Female elephants live their entire lives as part of a tightly knit family group.  Life in the herd revolves around breeding and the raising of calves.  A new calf is typically the center of attention for all herd members.  The little one photographed above must be pretty new — it is so small that it could easily walk under the elephant behind it.

Females are ready to breed at the age of thirteen, and will give birth after a 22 month pregnancy.  At birth all of the other elephants will gather around the newborn to touch and caress it with their trunks.  In the video below you can see a herd’s reaction to a newborn.

 

Soon after birth the mother will select several full time baby sitters or “allomothers” from her group.  These allomothers will help in all aspects of raising the calf.  The more allomothers a baby has the more free time the mother has to feed herself and produce nutritious milk, increasing the chances of survival for the calf.  The allomothers also benefit by gaining experience on how to raise a calf which makes them better mothers when they are finally ready to breed.

Here you can see a whole herd come together to help a baby elephant that is stuck at a water hole:

 

Given all that love and protection, baby elephants seem free to enjoy life.  I have watched them play in rivers and they are just like human children at the beach.  They run and chase each other.  They splash one another and the teenagers knock the smaller ones over – all in good fun.  Check out this little guy (the fun starts around 0:35 seconds):

 

There is an African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Gee, I wonder where the inspiration for that may have come from?

Until next month…

 

 

Gone Fish’n

Shot of the Month – March 2017

 

Osprey, Vermont (8317)

Here we see an Osprey doing what it does best — catching a fish.  This was one of the first images I ever captured of an osprey in action.  I have to confess however that this is not a completely  “wild” setting.  Let me explain.

Rainbow Trout (1352)

Osprey Buffet

A couple of years ago while living in Vermont I heard about ospreys that regularly visited a fish hatchery that was about an hour from where I lived.   The hatchery had an assortment of holding tanks that held fish from uber small to quite big.    The biggest fish, rainbow trout in this case, were held in an outdoor pond.  For an osprey, this was like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel.

Initially the osprey parents would stop by to catch a couple of fish each day to feed themselves and the kids.  When the chicks were old enough to fly the parents would bring them to this pond to practice fishing.  I heard about the spectacle and spent a couple of weekends sitting by the pond to see what I could catch.  It was interesting watching the parents circling above as they called out to their offspring, seeming to implore them to give it a go.  It was easy to distinguish the parents from the newbies — the parent would circle briefly and dive in with great confidence and efficiency.  The kids, uh, not so much.  They would start a dive and then abort.  Come in for another try and pull up at the last second as they got close to the water.  Eventually, after numerous false starts they would dive in, occasionally catching a meal.

As for me, I had a grand ole time.  I had a front row seat and could see up close and personal how an osprey earned a living.

Ospreys are true piscavores — fish make up about 99% of their diet.  Given their love of fish, osprey nests are usually found within 12 miles of a body of water.  They typically fly about 30 to 100 feet above the water surface and use their exceptional eyesight to spot a meal.  Osprey tend to prefer shallow bodies of water since it can only plunge about three feet under the water’s surface with its feet-first dives.  These hawks are pretty good at what they do and usually catch a fish in 1 out of 4 tries.  It takes an experienced adult about 12 minutes of hunting before making a catch.

Osprey (9223)

The fish is oriented headfirst to minimize wind resistance

The osprey’s feet are highly adapted to facilitate holding on to its slippery catch.  Osprey can shift one outer toe to the back if needed to better grasp a fish.  No other birds of prey can do that.  Their feet also have barbed pads on the soles and the talons have backward-facing scales — all adaptions to help maintain a firm grip.  To facilitate an efficient flight back to the nest or to the preferred dining locale, an osprey will orient the fish headfirst to minimize wind resistance!

 

As they say, you can teach a man to fish, but he still won’t be as good as an osprey.  Or something like that.

 

Until next month….

 

Here is a great slow motion video of an osprey dive:

 

 

Nikon D4S, Nikon 600 mm, f/8, 1/2000 s, ISO 800, -0.5 EV