Red-breasted Mergansers foraging with their heads submerged - Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/500, ISO 160, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
According to Birds of North America there are four foraging methods used by Red-breasted Mergansers which are Cooperative Herding, Individual Search, Shallow Diving and Deep Diving. Even though there is a pair of birds in the image above they are using the Individual Search method which involves swimming continuously with the head submerged while searching for prey. These two birds were in a shallow lagoon at the north beach of Fort De Soto County Park.
Red-breasted Merganser diving into a wave - Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
This Red-breasted Merganser was photographed as it foraged in the Gulf of Mexico also using the Individual Search method but seemed to be caught unawares when a rather large wave came up to the bird. Not the best image as far as getting eye contact from my subject but I can see the eye and I am fairly certain the bird could see me too.
Red-breasted Merganser in the waves - Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 160, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 310mm, natural light
In my observations of Red-breasted Mergansers foraging I noticed that they foraged for long periods of time and their activity level was high and that they would often take a small break while foraging to briefly look around. Perhaps that was to make sure there were no predators in the area.
Red-breasted Merganser taking a break - Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/350, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 360mm, natural light
After a lengthy period of foraging I also noticed that Red-breasted Mergansers would climb out of the water to rest. I photographed this resting Red-breasted Merganser on the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico at Fort De Soto’s north beach. I was able to belly crawl up to the merganser without disturbing it.
One other foraging behavior I saw and do not see mentioned at BNA is that Red-breasted Mergansers would follow Reddish Egrets who were actively foraging and then would capture prey that the egrets scattered towards them. The Reddish Egrets paid the Red-breasted Mergansers very little attention if any at all but the mergansers seemed to benefit from the feeding activity of the egrets. In a way it is a form of Cooperative Herding but the mergansers are using the Reddish Egret to do the herding.
Soon I should be seeing Red-breasted Mergansers here in Utah and I hope that I will see and photograph more of their foraging behaviors.
Canada Geese mating – Nikon D300, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
Officially it isn’t spring yet but the Canada Geese here in the Salt Lake Valley don’t seem to be paying much attention to our human calendars at all and have begun their mating season. A few days ago at a pond near where I live the Mallards and the Canada Geese were pairing up and mating. Canada Geese may be common but I don’t like to pass on taking images of common birds. After all what is common for our locations aren’t common at all in other parts of the world.
The image above shows the gander mating with the female while he has a firm grasp on some of the feathers on the female’s neck.
Copulation Complete - Nikon D300, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
The whole mating process only took a few seconds which is probably good for the female since she was completely submerged at times. In the image above there feathers are still ruffled where the male has grasped the female’s neck and the gander’s bill still has some of her feathers in it.
Canada Goose gander - Nikon D300, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
The female Canada Goose bathed in a deeper section of the pond while the male paddled over to the shore, splashed for a bit then stood up and flapped his wings near a Common Coot that was preening on the edge of the pond. Yes, it sure looks like spring has sprung in this section of Utah.
But winter isn’t quite over yet and like these Canada Geese winter often ignores the human calendar and there may still be more snow on the way before the warmth of spring settles into the valley.
Great Horned Owl juvenile in early morning light – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited
Normally I prefer natural settings when I photograph birds but there are times when I believe that man made structures or features can add to an image rather than detract. Weather worn fence posts, rusty barbed wire, wood with an aged patina or rustic building structures can add interesting textures and visual appeal.
I especially like the combination of old wood and owls, in this photo a juvenile Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is perched on an external structural beam of an old granary in Montana in warm, early morning light. My camera and lens were mounted on a tripod and the owlet was static so I was able to use a relatively low ISO and shutter speed. My reason for doing that is because the lower ISO produces more fine detail than if I had gone to ISO 500. I wanted to capture the details in the downy feathers of the young owl plus the details and character of the old wood.
Juvenile Great Horned Owl yawning – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/350, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited
A rule that bird photographers often follow is to have eye contact with the bird but I believe that rules can be broken and still produce appealing images. There may be some people who would not like the photo above because it does not have eye contact from the bird but personally I think the image is interesting because of the wide open yawn of the immature owl and that with the bird’s eyes closed it appears to have long, dark eye lashes.
So for me this photo has great appeal even though I have broken a rule. Rebel that I am.
Immature Great Horned Owl in a granary window – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f6.3, 1/500, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited
This image was taken in evening light that wasn’t quite as warm as the two owl photos above that were taken in early morning light so the wood does not appear to be as golden. The strong winds of the Montana plains have taken a toll on these old structures, the granaries lean away from the normal direction of the wind and nothing appears to be level any more.
I like how the owl stands out from the very dark interior of the granary through the window, the pose of the bird and the knotty, cracked appearance of the wood. Even though I do not have direct eye contact from the young owl one of the things I like is how it appears to be gazing off in the distance and doesn’t show the least bit of concern for my presence.
A pair of Great Horned Owls have raised a brood each year in these old granaries on the farm in Montana, I hope that this year I’ll be able to photograph them again.
These images were taken in 2010
Roseate Spoonbills in a sea fog – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/180, ISO 400, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 250mm, natural light
One early morning in May of 2008 I walked across the footbridge at Fort De Soto’s north beach not expecting much because a sea fog had rolled in overnight and that can cause exposures to be difficult. As soon as I crossed the north beach footbridge I spotted several Roseate Spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) in the tidal lagoon on my right. There were adults and a few juveniles, some were resting while others preened.
I had the whole beach to myself that morning, I guess the other bird photographers decided to skip the beach because of the sea fog. I stepped into the water of the lagoon, sank to my knees and very slowly moved closer to the spoonbills. I knew I wouldn’t have very long to photograph the birds because I could hear the machine that groomed the beach and removed trash left in the sand by beach-goers the day before. The birds weren’t going to stick around with the noisy machine so close. I wouldn’t have time for the sun to rise higher to illuminate the roseate spoonbills any better. In the low light I knew I had to push my ISO up to at least 400 and even then I was still only getting 1/180 for my shutter speed and I was shooting handheld.
Despite the low light, the sea fog and the noisy machinery I walked away with some images of these spoonbills that I really like in the 5 minutes I had with them.
In the image above the bird on the left is a juvenile and the out of focus bird on the right is an adult. Juveniles typically have a lighter, softer pink coloration than mature birds and their heads are covered with light colored feathers where the adults have bald heads. The juveniles also lack the carmine red patch that the adults have on their wings.
Spring Chukar on Antelope Island – Nikon D300, f8, 1/1600, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 357mm, natural light
The last time I went to Antelope Island State Park I noticed that the Chukars were more visible than they have been for awhile and I also noticed a tiny wildflower called Redstem Filaree starting to green up. In this image you can see the tiny flowers of the Redstem Filaree mixed in the grasses around the Chukar’s feet. Filaree can bloom from February through July so I guess with the warm spring-like weather we have been having I should be looking for the tiny flowers.
Very soon the Chukars will start their mating displays and the males will be fighting and acting territorial and not long after that little puffball chicks will be running after the adults.