Category Archives: Avian Photography

Spring in the Swamps and Along the Blackwater Creeks

Every spring North Carolina is blessed with a brilliantly beautiful song bird living near blackwater streams, creeks and swamps. With bright yellow feathers resembling those of a canary, accented by gray-black wings, the Prothonotary Warbler is easily overlooked in the dense areas where it lives. Unquestionably, this is one of my favorite little song birds and one I find difficult to get in front of my lens for quality photos. The images below are from today’s efforts. I hope you enjoy them.

Prothonotary Warbler, Croatan National Forest

Prothootary Warbler on bridge in Croatan National Forest

Prothonotary Warbler in the Croatan National Forest

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Overcast Skies, Dark Forest and Small Birds

Mother nature has been fairly cruel to me this year. If I have a personal day to make photo the weather is likely to either be wet, threatening or severely overcast. Today was no exception. I got up with plans to either visit the wild horses or to kayak up Cahooque Creek for some Prothonotary Warbler photographer. Neither seemed a good idea. Rather than being totally stymied I decided to take the jeep and drive to a location I know has some potential for warbler photography. With the sky overcast and the forest dark and thick I knew I wouldn’t be thrilled with the settings I’d have to use, but any image was better than no image. I was treated to observing a Black & White warbler, but he stayed too deep in the woods for a shot. I also got several looks at some Prothonotary Warblers and was lucky enough to get a couple of okay shots. Handheld, high ISO certainly didn’t combine for an image outstanding, but at least I got a couple shots.

Prothonotary Warbler in the Croatan Nationa Forest

Prothonotary Warbler, eastern NC

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Eastern Phoebe

While I was photographing the Yellow Rumped Warblers the other day I was blessed with another visitor. A lovely little Eastern Phoebe perched on a bare branch, watching to see what I was up to. Obviously this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The Eastern Phoebe is a member of the flycatcher family. This handsome little species of bird was the first to be banded in the United States. In 1804 John Audubon, (yep… that Audubon), attached a “silvered thread” to the leg of an Eastern Phoebe so he could track its return in the following years. A year round resident of the Carolinas, these pretty little birds winter farther north than other flycatcher species. These small birds will use buildings and bridges for nesting sites, a trait that has allowed them tolerate urban growth into their natural habitat.

Photographing small birds is one of the few situations where I like to have my camera at my eye level. For shooting most wild subjects I prefer a low point of view but birds are often perched high in the branches of tree. A shot taken on at eye-level with the subject always has more impact than a shot taken at an extreme upward angle. For this series the Phoebe was perched very close to my eye-level making a good situation even better. I made these shots with a Canon 7D and a Sigma 50-500mm lens mounted atop an Induro CT314 tripod.

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Eastern Phoebe at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve Yawnig Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Also posted in General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Nature Photography, Photo Tip

Yellow Rumped Warbler, AKA Butter Butt

I have a friend that moderates the Wildlife South photo forums. Jim is a retired photo editor that used to work for National Geographic. He has a love for photographing small birds and the Yellow Rumped Warbler, a little bird he’s nick named the “Butter Butt,” seems to be one of his favorites. Naturally when I get the chance I have to snap a few photos of these little birds to share with him. I had braved the cold the other morning, scraped the frost off of my windows, loaded the kayak and headed over to the reserve to photograph the wild horses. After spending some time with the horses I decided to head back to the kayak, make the paddle across Taylor’s Creek and go enjoy the warmth and comfort of home. On the hike back I noticed several of these handsome little birds and decided to make a few photos.

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

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If It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck… Well, It Must be a Duck!

This morning I spent some time in the forest with little to show for the effort. The whitetail deer just were not cooperating. It happens. Seeing that my original plan wasn’t working out I made a shift in plans and headed to a spot on the river that almost always holds a few Mallard ducks. While this was almost like “shooting fish in a barrel,” it did provide a little tune-up for the approaching season. When shooting waterfowl it’s always a good idea to use a circular polarizing filter to cut down on reflections from the water. Of course, since I wasn’t planning on photographing ducks, I didn’t have the filter with me. Sometimes you just make do with what you have, apply your knowledge and skills and simply get to work. Plus there is a fairly decent polarization plug-in in the NIK suite. While I always prefer to get things right in the camera, the digital age gives us a lot of artistic options. So without further delay or explanation, I give you Mallard ducks.

Mallard duck on the Neuse River.

A beautiful Mallard Drake stretches his wings.

Mallard duck in eastern North Carolina.

A lovely Mallard hen glides along the surface of the water.

Mallard Drake stretching its wings.

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One More Shorebird – a Willet

It’s a rainy morning along the coast of North Carolina. I supposed I could suck it up and head out to try and make some images anyway, but I’m going to wimp out and stay inside instead! While raining days can make for some great photographic opportunities… and the dampness can help quiet your movements in the forest… I’m simply not in the mood to deal with rain today Instead I think I’ll share a few photos from an outing a few days ago, then work on a bit of marketing. Nice “high and dry” activities.

Today’s image offerings are of a Willet taken within the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. As is often the case with my shorebird photographs, I took these images from my kayak. I like using the kayak for making these kinds of photographs because the birds are sometimes more tolerant of an approach from the water.

Willet at the mouth of Deep Creek and Taylors Creek, Beaufort, North Carolina

A classic Willet pose, one of the more common shorebirds found along the North Carolina coast.
Willet, Crystal Coast North Carolina.

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Greater Yellowlegs

I enjoy finding these birds when I’m out doing shorebird photography from kayak. One of the larger shorebirds, these are migrants. They travel to Canada for breeding in the Spring then winter in warmer climates… including the North Carolina coast. A somewhat similar looking and named bird, the Lesser Yellowlegs, is difficult to tell apart unless you find them together. The Greater is larger, has a slightly upturned bill that tends to be blue-gray near its base.

For shorebird photography I like to work from my kayak. Even though I’m approaching from the water, these birds can be a little skittish… ok, most shore birds can be a bit skittish… so a slow, careful approach is called for. The best bet is if you can let the wind and/or current drift you into camera range. If you need to paddle you need to keep the paddle movement to a minimum. Don’t make a direct approach of the bird is bound to take to wing.

Making photographs of small shorebirds from a kayak requires a long lens and hand holding rather than using a nice, sturdy tripod. The combination of a telephoto lens and hand holding the camera sets up a bit of risk of camera shake and motion blur. The trick is to keep the shutter speed fast to minimize the effects of this problem.

Greater Yellowlegs at Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve.

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Jonathan Livingston I Presume?

Perhaps the most often over looked bird by avian photographers, it seems the lowly seagull simply gets no respect. Considering “locals” use terms like “sky rats” to describe them I suppose it’s little wonder that we don’t bother pointing our lenses at them if there’s anything else around to photograph. Still, tourist find the fascinating. And really, who didn’t crack a smile during the movie “Finding Nemo” when all the gulls were chanting “mine… mine… mine?” Frankly I think these birds get a bit of a bad rap. They can make for interesting photographic subjects. So without further excuse or apology, here are a couple photos of a young laughing gull. I do hope you enjoy it.

A Young Laughing Gull on a Perch

Laughing gull along the Noth Carolina coast.

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Belted Kingfisher

Anyone that’s picked-up a camera equipped with a long telephoto lens to pursue making images of shore birds probably has a few stories to tell about their encounters with Belted Kingfishers. These handsome little birds are small, fast and ever so camera shy. For many avian photographers they are considered a “nemesis species,” a bird that’s really tough to get in front of the lens. I’ll readily confess that my success with these little guys is less than great. Count me among those that have been heard saying, “any photo of a Belted Kingfisher is a good photo of a Belted Kingfisher.” I got lucky this morning and managed to get within camera range in my kayak and squeeze off a few snaps of the shutter before my subject took to wing. Are these the best photos of a Kingfisher I’ve seen? Not by a long shot. But hey, they’re Kingfisher photos… so they’re good, right?

Belted Kingfisher at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Rerserve, Beaufort, NC

Belted Kingfisher with Little Blue Heron in the background.

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Northern Flicker

I was taking a walk along a fire control road in the Croatan National Forest yesterday. Primarily I was doing a little scouting for signs of Whitetail deer or Black bear with thoughts of doing some big game photography in the near future. However, since I was noticing quite a few birds I set my camera up appropriately but adding a flash. I figured if a bird presented its self in the shadows I could flip the flash on for a bit of added light. A little bit into my hike this Northern Flicker perched fairly close to me and not extremely high up. I turned on the flash and fired a couple of frames before this lovely bird decided to move on. I hope you enjoy the photos.

A Northern Flicker perched in the Croatan National Forest near Cape Carteret, NC

Northern Flicker in the Croatan National Forest, eastern North Carolina.

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