Juvenile Black Skimmer
Six years ago this morning I was photographing birds at Fort De Soto County Park and I wanted to share a few images and memories of that day.
I started photographing birds right after the sun came up and this juvenile Black Skimmer was among the first birds I pointed my lens at.
It wasn’t long before I found myself photographing a pair of Sandwich Terns kind of having a fight over a driftwood perch.
And then the largest wading bird on the beach that morning, a Wood Stork giving me the eye.
Juvenile American Oystercatcher
This American Oystercatcher juvenile was special to me, I had watched and photographed it since it was only two days old. It was always a delight to photograph it as it grew and flourished.
Then I photographed a few little plovers foraging, walking and fluffing their feathers on the sandy beach. This Semipalmated Plover had been preening and fluffed its feathers before heading out to forage.
The Piping Plover wasn’t too far away from the Semipalmated Plover as it foraged while heading down the beach, I like how in this image its size can be compared to the preening Sandwich Tern in the background.
It was a delightful morning with the birds I love.
Roseate Spoonbill in a lagoon – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
Roseate Spoonbills are large wading birds with distinctive pink plumage, long spoon-shaped bills, bald heads and brilliant red eyes. Their length is about 32 inches, wing span 50 inches and they weigh about 3.3 pounds. When you are up close to them; as I was when I photographed the Spoonbill above, they seem rather large.
Wood Stork walking near a lagoon – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 160, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
Wood Storks are about 40 inches in length, have a wingspan of 61 inches and weigh in at 5.3 pounds. Wood Storks are also distinctive with white plumage, bald heads and long bills that look like wood. The Stork above has not yet acquired full adult plumage, when it does its neck will be featherless, dark and have a scaly appearance. When they are close you get the impression of their large size.
Wood Stork and Roseate Spoonbill size comparison – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/750, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 360mm, natural light
This photo shows a Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork on the shoreline of a tidal lagoon at Fort De Soto County Park in Florida and it shows how the Wood Stork can dwarf the Roseate Spoonbill in height.
I find both species fascinating, prehistoric looking and unique.
Landing Wood Stork – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/750, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
Wood Storks (Mycteria americana) are the largest wading bird in North America and the only stork that breeds in the U.S.. Wood Storks are considered endangered primarily due to loss of habitat. These huge wading birds can live up to 25 years.
Their diet consists of aquatic prey which includes fish, crabs and insects, they swish their bills in the water to locate prey as well as using their feet to stir up the water.
Wood Storks have been known to fly at altitudes of 6000 feet and will fly as far as 50 miles to eat.
This sub-adult Wood Stork was photographed at Fort De Soto’s north beach as the bird came in for a landing in a tidal lagoon edged by mangroves.
Walking Wood Stork – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm at 400mm, natural light
These two images were taken after the “Golden Hour”, though as I recall there wasn’t much golden light that morning. There were high thin clouds and that worked in my favor to photograph these large white birds without blowing out the whites. White feathers in bright light can be challenging to expose properly but the clouds on this day caused a diffusion of the light.
Wood Stork (Mycetaria americana) resting – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 270mm, natural light
I was either laying in the very shallow water of this lagoon or sitting down in it as low as possible to get a low angle. These are big wading birds though so I didn’t need to go as low as I would for a small shorebird like a Sanderling.
Wood Storks are the only native stork in North America and I think they are very prehistoric looking. I know quite a few people will pass up taking images of Wood Storks for more colorful and “beautiful” birds. Not me.
The diffuse light that day worked in my favor with these fascinating birds.
Wood Stork portrait – D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 160, 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light, a little noise reduction was applied to the background
It is my opinion that Wood Storks (Mycetaria americana) do not get nearly the same exposure as other big white wading birds and even far less than the pink Roseate Spoonbill. On avian critique forums you will see the Great Egret, Snowy Egret, White Ibis and the white morph of the Reddish Egret posted over & over again. Not so with the Wood Storks.
The number of views and comments on the aforementioned big white birds on those critique forums; even when they are technically flawed, will often be double or triple of the views for a perfectly executed Wood Stork photo.
I can not begin to fathom why. It might be the “bald” head of the Wood Stork family but the far more popular mature Roseate Spoonbill has a “bald” head too so I think the fascination with them specifically has to do with the cotton candy pink plumage they sport.
Wood Storks are only member of the stork family and the largest wading bird we have in North America. They are graceful on the ground and in flight and I find the wood-like patina of the bill very intriguing. It is their unique appearance that draws me to them and inspires me to photograph the storks to the best of my skills and abilities.
This particular Wood Stork allowed me opportunities to photograph it in flight as it landed in a lagoon, while it fed and because I sat very still in the water it approached me closely enough to take some closeup images.
For my tastes… bald can be beautiful.