Mark Smith Photography | Nikon D850 and Nikon 500F4 VR - Bird Photography Easter Morning Surprise

Nikon D850 and Nikon 500F4 VR - Bird Photography Easter Morning Surprise

April 07, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Sunrise is always the perfect time for bird photography and this location has something very special. I'm looking for a nesting pair of Sandhill Cranes. They have been sitting on one egg for about a month. It should hatch any day now and I want to be there to see and capture some images of that baby. First stop, the nesting sight.

Adult Sandhill Crane One adult is standing guard. So I use this opportunity to capture a few images. The D850 paired with a Nikon 500 F4 is an incredible combo capable of capturing some beautiful images. Time for a close look at the nest. One adult is on the resting on the nest, but no babies this morning. Time to do a little exploring and see what else I can find.

Adult Sandhill Crane on Nest On my way towards the back I find this Little Blue Heron who is in the middle of changing from white to blue. These birds are white for their first year. And it would appear this bird is having a Cajun style breakfast. That's a craw fish in its beak.

Little Blue Heron White Phase Then, I find this cute Black Belly whistling duck. I'm really digging the texture on this bird's head.

Black Belly Whistling Duck As I come around the corner, one of the ponds is full of birds who are all busy looking for breakfast.

The first bird I notice is this magnificent Roseate spoonbill who is very a pro at catching small fish with that odd spoon shaped beak.

Roseate Spoonbill Here's a good shot of that spoon shaped beak. I was using a fast shutter speed of 1/3200 of a second because this bird was moving through the water quickly. I wanted to freeze the motion and capture as much detail as possible, like this. Take a close look at this bird, pretty amazing right?

Roseate Spoonbill Feeding Here, let's get a little closer. WOW! Check out all that wild color! That bright red eye, the black collar, the rusty color on these shoulders, that small patch of pink feather on the neck just above the breast and of course that brilliant red and pink on the rest of the body. If you look real close you can see a hint of an orange tail as well. What a wild looking bird!

This photo shoot was going good until agreat egret deiced to photobomb my shot. That didn't seem to bother the spoonbill at all, IN fact, it just shook it off and went about its business. 

Right next to the hungry spoonbill was a graceful Black Necked Stilt. This is one of my favorite birds and I'm not sure why but they remind of a Doctor Sues or a Jim Henson creation. The current conditions were perfect to get some reflection shots of these awesome little birds. 

Black Necked Stilt If you are new to photography, you might not see "reflections" yet. Over time we learn to tune them out but they can help create some really beautiful artistic style images like these. Here's something else that is interesting to note. Smooth water like this helps reflect and bounce light right back up on the bird which in turn can really help illuminate the underside of the bird. Ripples or waves on the surface of the water will cause the light to scatter in different directions. Smooth surfaces are always better for reflecting light sources.

My settings were the same in this entire series. I used a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second and an aperture of F5.6. I also dialed in some negative exposure compensation to keep the white on the birds from being overexposed.

Then a few wood storks decided to make an appearance and these aren't the prettiest of birds but in this early morning light, they sure did look impressive. These birds are also extremely good at hunting. They stick their beaks down in the water and then kick the ground with their feet. This is a great way to scare any hiding fish right into the bird's crazy looking beak. Once that happens, there is little hope for the fish. The detail from this camera lens combo is so impressive. Here's a closer look where the fish is just balanced there on the bird's beak.

Woodstork eating fish

And of course  the photogenic spoonbill keeps photobombing the shots. Here are the settings I used for this series of wood stork shots. Nothing too unusual. A fast shutter speed to capture and freeze that action an aperture of f5.6 was perfect because the bird was in more of a profile pose and some negative exposure compensation to keep the bird from being overexposed.

Immediately after the wood storks, a small pack of tricolored herons descended upon the back pond. I call this group of birds a pack instead of a flock because these birds were hunting in a group and it was an amazing thing to see and a behavior I have never seen before from this bird. There was a total of 8 birds in this pack and they varied in age from a few youngsters to a few adults with full breeding plumage. Check out that awesome blue colored beak, that red eye and those purple legs. These are the breeding colors for this species of bird and what an incredible color display! Watching these birds hunt was an incredible experience. They were so frantic and busy it was hard to choose which one to focus on.

Tricolored Heron I used practically the same settings for these birds as well expect I stopped down the aperture just a little to help compensate for the erratic behavior of these birds. This gave me a little more depth of field to work with in case the birds weren't perfectly parallel to me and my camera.

Do you remember this bird from a little earlier. This is a juvenile little blue heron. This is what the adult version of the same bird looks like. And it has a nice big fish as well. Pretty drastic change in color isn't it?

Little Blue Heron With Fish Time for a few more nice reflection shots before moving on a little further into the wetlands in search of other birds. As I made my way towards the back, I could see a pair of Sandhill cranes far off in the distance. I wanted to get a little closer and see what they were up to because I have never seen any this far back in the wetlands before.

Here's one of the adults now and it looks like I missed focus on this bird but I didn't. Take a closer look at the bird's feet and you will see a tiny little baby Sandhill crane.

Adult Sandhill Crane and baby Colt

I would guess this baby was only a few days old. Mom and dad are busy feeding this little baby and it looks like dragonflies are on the menu this morning. 

Sandhill Crane Colt I've noticed that for the first few weeks of their life, the chicks have this milky color in their pupil when they are facing the sun. I'm not sure why this is but in these other shots where the chick is not looking directly into the sun, the eye looks normal. It must have something to do with their development of their eyes. And then it is back to eating dragonflies and lots of them. The parents will feed this little baby anything they can find so that it can quickly grow. A bigger bird is less likely to be taken by a predator. And then it was off down the trail. This little bird has a big, brand new world to explore. What a great morning at the local wetlands. As I headed out, I decided to stop and check on the Sandhill crane nest from earlier in the morning and I'm glad I did.

Their chick has hatched! And those tiny little legs are being used for the first time. Come on you can do it, Yes! And its first step ever! WOW. What an incredible thing to see! That took a lot out of this little bird. Time for a much needed rest.

Sandhill Crane Chick Hatching I grabbed a few shots of this incredible moment with this chick. Here you can see the parent, the chick and the now empty egg shell. This family has quite the challenge ahead of them and this little baby still needs to learn how to traverse this strange new land. Walking is still a challenge as well. Navigating the maze of sticks that make up the nest is tough on new legs but in time this little baby will be walking with no problems and in about 3 months, it will take its first flying lessons. For now, it is time to sit back and relax with one of the parents. It was great seeing two Sandhill crane families in the wetlands both with a new generation of life.


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