I made 6 trips for whooping cranes this month and had sunlight two mornings. The birds were always there, but the warm light of sunrise was missing. Those of you who were with me know what a big difference that made in bird activity and photo quality.
All of our time during the whooping crane trips was dedicated to bird photography. That was a departure from the norm, as we usually work on landscapes around the harbors and fishing piers in the afternoons. Frankly, I missed shooting the colorful boats, harbor reflections and fog that can produce wonderful shots, but the weather kept us from getting the landscape opportunities we wanted.
I made a morning trip out to South Padre Island in late January and happily encountered a light morning fog and very little wind. The birds were there in good variety although ducks numbers were lower than usual. I’ve incorporated some of those shots with photos from our last whooping crane trip to give you a summary of my late January outings.
Click on a photo to make it larger and produce a sharper image for better viewing. There is a hidden “next” button in the upper, right hand area of each photo, too.
Young whooping crane waits in the first rays of morning light at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge as a parent bird prepares a blue crab for his dining enjoyment.
Whooping crane landing in salt marsh at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
The whooping crane above was returning to its mate and young after chasing away another pair that had ventured too closely to this bird’s winter feeding territory.
Whooping crane calling, "whooping", before leaving the salt marsh and flying inland to feed on recently burned grasslands at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
All the whooping cranes photos were taken with a Canon 7D camera, 500 mm IS lens and 1.4X teleconverter mounted on a Gitzo 1358 tripod with Wimberley head. They were shot from a boat with the engine turned off. Even though temperatures were relatively cold, heat waves made it impossible to photograph the cranes after 10:00 AM on sunny mornings when the focus distance was more than about 120 feet.
American Oystercatcher stretching before it begins to feed on an oyster bar in Aransas Bay near Rockport, Texas.
I can read body language in many birds and I can anticipate when they are going to stretch, fly or just go to sleep. Nevertheless, it is always hard for me to “pull back” or reduce the telephoto power in order to capture those long wings when a bird stretches. On this occasion, however, I did manage to alert the workshop group and remove the teleconverter from my lens in time to capture this wonderful pose of an American oystercatcher. Oystercatchers are almost always located and photographed during the whooping crane trips.
Roseate Spoonbills flying up the intracoastal waterway by Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
The whooping cranes vocalized more this year than usual, and we had more roseate spoonbills than in any of the six years I’ve been leading these trips.
Only the animals are "authorized" to enter the precincts of birds so rare as whooping cranes. I think this turkey vulture wanted us to know.
Common Goldeneye without special filter effects.
Male common goldeneye keeping a sharp eye on us near the boat landing at Goose Island State Park.
Since the water around the goldeneye was somewhat flat and uninteresting, I added a filter from Photoshop (I forgot which one). Whatever it was, I think the shot is better with the special effect.
Blue-winged teal drake flushing from the marsh near a boardwalk at the Aransas Pass sewage treatment facility.
Golden leaves on a black willow produced this reflection with a passing drake blue-winged teal at Paradise Pond in Aransas Pass.
Juvenile Brown Pelican landing at the fish cleaning station on Goose Island State Park, Texas
The brown pelican above was photographed with a Canon 1D Mark III camera and 16-35 mm Canon lens, hand held from about 8 feet.
These adult Brown Pelicans were flying at me on the Laguna Madre at South Padre Island in early morning.
As the sun came up and began to burn away the fog, this black-neck stilt paused in the shallows of the Laguna Madre to soak up a little warmth.
Drake Northern Pintails sitting in the Laguna Madre shallows just after sunrise.
Some birds, like this Little Blue Heron, prefer a dry perch while basking in the morning sunshine.
Perching water birds are a disaster for the handrails at the South Padre Island Birding Center. Hand cleaner is always in my equipment bag.
This beautiful tricolored heron gave me two quick photos before turning and walking straight away.
Sunrise at the South Padre Island boardwalk is usually productive. Many birds roost nearby or perch on the handrails to warm in the morning light. It takes me 90 minutes to drive there from McAllen, but I am seldom disappointed.