Mark Smith Photography | Unusual Weather Event Makes For Incredible Bird Photography Nikon D500 Fort DeSoto

Unusual Weather Event Makes For Incredible Bird Photography Nikon D500 Fort DeSoto

November 02, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

If you would prefer to come along with me on this adventure, then watch the video!

In May of 2017, I used a really cool strategy that made for an incredible day of bird photography. I talk about this strategy and quite a few other ones in my book: Bird Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Mastering the Art of Capturing Stunning Images of Birds.

What's the strategy? I used an oncoming weather system to my advantage. A very strong storm front was moving in from the north. As luck would have it, this storm front would be moving directly over a major bird migration flyway during the last few days of spring migration.

As this line of storms moved over the Gulf of Mexico it pushed a large amount of migratory birds inland. These are birds that typically fly over the ocean in order to go north and because of this, these birds aren't always seen on land.

When an event like this happens, you want to be there with your camera because there is a really good chance of seeing some birds you wouldn't normally find in the area. So I packed up my gear and headed to Fort Desoto, a really cool county park on the west coast of Florida.

Fort Desoto is an all around great birding location pretty much any time of the year, but on this day the birding was exceptional and on the way back home I was presented with another totally awesome birding opportunity which I'll share at the end of this post! Come on, let's see what kind of birds the storm blew in.

As soon as I arrived, I found several of these Barn Swallows just laying on the side of the road and along the sidewalk. It might appear as if the bird is sick but it's not. These swallows were literally exhausted from battling the storm the night before. After a much needed rest, they were back in the air.

Ahh, one of my favorite types of birds, the hummingbird. I never get tired of watching these fantastic little birds as they dart in and out of cover. This is a male Ruby Throated Hummingbird even though you can't really see the ruby red throat in this shot.

The light has to hit the darker area of the throat just right in order to see that brilliant red color. 

Hummingbirds make for some very challenging photography. You have to use very fast shutter speeds to stop their insanely fast movements and you need a camera with really good auto focus capabilities. The Nikon D500 worked great for me. 

These male ruby throated hummingbirds aren't alone. There are females here too. The females don't have that red throat display, they have a much more drab color to them. Still just as beautiful even though she doesn't have those colors.

Check out her little feet. They look just like little hands! All of these tiny hummingbirds were busy feeding on the nectar of the sea grape blossoms. Those are the plants you see in the images. The blossoms will actually turn into small green grapes and people will make jelly from these grapes. This is something I have yet to try. Gonna add that to my must eat list!

I noticed a lot of cars parked on the side of the road and there were even more people standing and pointing. This could only mean one thing, there was something unusual up ahead.

All those people were in the hot spot. There were rare birds practically everywhere in the sea grapes. This first shot is a Summer Tanager. It didn't want to come out of the sea grapes so I grabbed this quick shot before the bird vanished.

Then I spotted this Rose Breasted Grosbeak hiding deep in the bushes and much like the Summer Tanager, this Grosbeak didn't want to come out of cover. I used single point auto focus, placed the single point on the Grosbeak's head and the D500 focused right through those thick branches.

It was almost as if this Grosbeak didn't want to fully show me how it got the name Rose Breasted, but then just as I was about to give up, it turned around and gave me this nice shot and now you know why this is called the Rose Breasted Grosbeak.

Then I spotted this Black Throated Green Warbler and this little bird was very curious. It kept hopping from branch to branch but never once took its eyes off me. In this last shot, he flew in a little closer for one more look and then vanished. It was like there a regular rotation of rare birds in this small group of sea grapes.

And then from out of nowhere, a Yellow Warbler appeared on the branch in front of me. I grabbed this shot before the bird bounced back into cover. Once it was in the safety of the thicker branches, it would only appear very briefly at time. I managed to grab a couple of shots but I would have loved to get one of this bird right out in the open.

Next up was a group of Indigo Buntings. Quite a few of these showed up to the party and they also liked to stay hidden in the sea grapes but eventually they got a little braver. 

And yet another awesome bird decided to fly in to have its picture taken. This is the Eastern Kingbird. It does have a sort of regal look to it, doesn't it?

As if all of these awesome birds weren't enough, This incredible bird landed on a branch just a few feet from me and was really wondering what I was doing with that big old camera lens. This beautiful little bird is the Bay-breasted Warbler and this was my favorite bird of the day. Just look at those colors. This bird spends its summers in Canada and its winters in South America. They are rarely seen in this location. What an awesome surprise and how cool of this little bird to fly in so close and let me take its picture.

I ventured out towards the beautiful blue waters of the bay to see what I could find. I immediately saw an Osprey nest. As luck would have it, the Osprey nest was occupied and one osprey was working to make that nest as big as possible.

Just how big is an Osprey's nest? That big. That is a huge pile of sticks. I really like this picture. It helps put things into perspective, especially with the Osprey sitting all nice and comfortable at the top.

n the beginning of this video, I mentioned another really cool bird experience that happened on my way home. As I was driving down the highway I saw a group of birds drag a dead alligator from the side of the road deep into the tall grass. I pulled over, grabbed my camera and slowly approached them. To my surprise I found this, not one but two Crested Caracaras and one Turkey Vulture. For a moment I felt like I was in Africa witnessing a fresh kill as I slowly got closer to these birds. I used the tall grass to my advantage and stayed down wind and light from the birds. I managed to grab a few good shots before I was spotted.

What an incredible ending to a very awesome day.


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