A Ring-billed Gull – Light on Dark

Ring-billed Gull in flightRing-billed Gull in flight – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 270mm, natural light, not baited

It seems that more than a few bird photographers avoid taking images of gulls perhaps in part because they are common in so many locations or because gulls are associated with trash but I enjoy taking images of gulls especially if they are in flight or in a great setting. For new photographers who want to work on flight photography gulls make excellent subjects to practice on.

In most areas of North America Ring-billed Gulls are the most commonly seen gull and not only are they beautiful they are also fun and challenging to photograph. The day I photographed this Ring-billed Gull at Fort De Soto’s north beach there were baitfish in the hundreds of thousands running just off shore and pelicans, egrets, terns and gulls were all in a feeding frenzy. Most of the images I took that day had water or sky in the background but when this Ring-billed Gull flew into the beach to land it had dark trees in the background. The light gull against the dark background was and still is very appealing to me and I also enjoy the wing position, flared tail and head angle.

Common? Maybe. I knew as soon as I saw this through my viewfinder I was going to love the image. I wasn’t wrong.


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Missing Fort De Soto

Marbled Godwit and Dowitcher friendsMarbled Godwit and Dowitcher friends

Some days I miss the sound of the Gulf of Mexico lapping up on the shoreline and the gentle sea breeze caressing my cheeks while I soak in the sights around me at Fort De Soto. I miss the flocks of birds that seem to change throughout the year.

Semipalmated Plover warming in the sunSemipalmated Plover warming in the sun

Some days I miss sand crawling and laying in it in with the warm sun on my back while little plovers and sandpipers dart around in front of me and watching the dainty shorebirds through my lens.

Greater Yellowlegs at sunriseGreater Yellowlegs at sunrise

I miss slipping quietly into the lagoons and moving at a snails pace until the birds are comfortable with my presence and relax while I take hundreds of images of them. I miss being able to observe my subjects closely while the saltwater swirls around me.

Foraging adult American OystercatcherForaging adult American Oystercatcher

Some days I really miss the shorebirds that I don’t see here in Utah, like American Oystercatchers. I still dream about them even after four years of being here. I miss using my stalking skills to get as close to the birds and get frame filling images.

Ring-billed Gull lifting off from the Gulf of MexicoRing-billed Gull lifting off from the Gulf of Mexico

I see plenty of Ring-billed Gulls here in Utah but I miss seeing them foraging for prey in the Gulf of Mexico and some days I really miss the fantastic colors of the Gulf and the tidal lagoons.

Juvenile Black SkimmerJuvenile Black Skimmer

Some days I miss hearing the nasal barking yip of Black Skimmers coming onto shore after skimming for fish in the waves and seeing those long, odd shaped bills. I miss walking and shooting handheld unfettered by being in a vehicle with clear views around me at a full 360 degrees.

Roseate Spoonbill resting in a lagoonRoseate Spoonbill resting in a lagoon

Some days I miss the vivid pinks and carmine reds of Roseate Spoonbills, their bright red eyes and their spatulate bills. I miss having them approach me until I can no longer focus on them.

Hunting Great EgretHunting Great Egret

Some days I miss seeing Great Egrets catch pipefish and struggle while they try to get the wiggly little things in their bills or when they catch a large Mullet that they have trouble swallowing.

Great Blue Heron just prior to sunriseGreat Blue Heron just prior to sunrise with the Earth shadow

Some days I miss getting to the north beach before anyone else and sitting in the still warm sand while to the west I can see the Earth Shadow that lingers until the sun rises. I miss watching the birds wake up.

Brown Pelican adult floating on the Gulf of MexicoBrown Pelican adult floating on the Gulf of Mexico

Some days I miss seeing Brown Pelicans floating on the waves just off shore or seeing them plummet from the sky to catch fish.

Some days I miss Fort De Soto, the birds there and the entire experience of just being there. It is just such an amazing place, how could I not miss it?



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Why do they call them Laughing Gulls?

Calling Laughing Gull in breeding plumageCalling Laughing Gull in breeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f14, 1/350, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm at 185mm, natural light, not baited

They might be called Laughing Gulls because of the sounds they make which is a ha-ha-ha-ha, you can listen to the call here. Laughing Gulls are quite noisy when they are in a flock but I never minded listening to them, in fact they often made me laugh. This Laughing Gull was photographed on Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach, the sand had been piled up to fortify the feet of the lifeguard tower.  This bird is in breeding plumage, look at the huge opening of the bill!

Laughing Gull calling because of an "intruder"Laughing Gull calling because of an “intruder” - Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm at 300mm, natural light, not baited

This Laughing Gull was also photographed at Fort De Soto but it was just going into breeding plumage, it wasn’t happy that another gull landed near it and was letting that be known quite loudly!

Maybe they aren’t called Laughing Gulls because of their calls but it sure makes the most sense to me!


*I am away and most likely enjoying myself in the great outdoors, please feel free to share this post with your friends and family.

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And We Have Lift Off!

Willet - Run and lift offWillet – Run and lift off

 I wanted to share some bird lift off images today so I rounded up a few that showed different styles of lift offs. This Willet took the run and lift off approach from a boulder on Antelope Island State Park. The Willet’s left leg had just been on the boulder.

Western Meadowlark - Push and lift offWestern Meadowlark – Push and lift off

This Western Meadowlark pushed off with its legs to lift off, its feet are still on the Greasewood as it started to flutter its wings.

Horned Lark - Squat and lift offHorned Lark – Squat and lift off

Horned Larks often use the squat and lift off method, almost sounds like a weigh-lifting move only the weight lifter wouldn’t be flying away at breakneck speed.

Swainson's Hawk - Squat and lift offSwainson’s Hawk – Squat and lift off

This Swainson’s Hawk also employed the squat and lift off method but it looked a bit more powerful than the Horned Lark did and the hawk didn’t fly off nearly as fast as the lark did. Look at that concentration!

Rough-legged Hawk - Leap and lift offRough-legged Hawk – Leap and lift off

Now this Rough-legged Hawk took a leap as lift off using its very long powerful wings. I’d give this bird a score of ten for technique!

Red-shouldered Hawk - Push and lift offRed-shouldered Hawk – Push and lift off

This Red-shouldered Hawk didn’t squat much as it pushed off from the old snag it was perched on in a smooth fluid movement that propelled the bird forward.

Flight shots are wonderful but so are lift off shots.


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Laughing Gulls in breeding and nonbreeding plumage

Laughing Gull in nonbreeding plumageLaughing Gull in nonbreeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 230mm, natural light, not baited

Both of these Laughing Gull images were taken at Fort De Soto County Park’s north beach in Florida, the image above shows a Laughing gull in nonbreeding plumage that was taken in September of 2008. It was a crazy day, there was a hurricane way out in the Gulf of Mexico, the wind was blowing hard and pushing baitfish close to shore and the bird activity was great.

Note the nearly white head, the black bill and how the white eye arcs don’t stand out all that well from the surrounding white of the head.

Bathing Laughing Gull in breeding plumageBathing Laughing Gull in breeding plumage - Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 330mm, natural light, not baited

This Laughing Gull was bathing in a tidal lagoon when I photographed it in May of 2009 and it is in breeding plumage, note the dark head, how the bill has changed to a dark red and how well the white eye arcs stand out from the dark head. Also this Laughing Gull shows a red orbital ring around the eye that the gull in nonbreeding plumage does not have. This image does not show the legs of the gull but they are a mahogany red color instead of the dark gray legs of a nonbreeding bird.

To the untrained eye these two Laughing Gulls might look like two different gull species because of the differences in appearance.


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