Bird On A Wire – Birds Of Ontario

On a trip to Ontario Canada a while back, I was able to spend some time photographing some of the area’s local birds, knowing that many of what I found there would be new species to me. I quickly found a few local residents, but as my time was short, I wasn’t able to get all of them without man-made elements in the frame.

An eastern kingbird perches on a wire fence, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

The first such local was an eastern kingbird. He was perched right next to a country road, at perfect eye level with my lens, which was resting on a bean bag sitting in an open window. Often bean bags are the best supports from which to shoot from a vehicle, especially if you want the opportunity to shoot out both sides of the car. Often Kerry is kind enough to drive slowly (and as quietly as possible) down country roads while I keep the back seat to myself and move back and forth between the rear windows as required.

I usually try to capture birds in more natural environments, but there were no trees nearby, there was a perfect distant background, and I had no time to wait for a better perch.

A female bobolink perches on a wire fence, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

The second bird I photographed in the same area (and yes, perched on a similar wire fence to the first bird) was a female bobolink. I saw several males in the area as well, but they stayed farther from the road and I didn’t get any worthwhile photos of them. It is always difficult identifying female species as the coloring can be quite different than the males. Since males typically have more differentiating colors, species are usually described using the males’ attributes instead of the females. To identify female birds, I often troll through hundreds of photos after guessing at the species, or at least narrowing down the family of bird.

A mute swan swims through calm water in a wetland, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

I also got some decent photos of a mute swan, and finally without distracting “hand of man” elements! Mute swans are native to Europe and Asia, but have established sizable populations in the coastal areas of the Great Lakes. I felt lucky to see one in the wild, as I’d never find one on the west coast of the US.

An osprey flies with wings stretched, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

My last bird for the day was not a new species for me, but who can’t marvel at a beautiful osprey in flight? The local area had erected several nesting towers to encourage the birds to raise their young here. This osprey had chicks in the nest, and gave me lots of great flight shots as it flew to and from the nest.

An osprey perches on the edge of a man-made nest tower, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

Here the osprey is perched at the edge of its nesting tower, looking majestic.

It is always fun to travel to new areas for nature photography. While landscape photography dictates that you continually visit new areas, bird and wildlife photography can often be done closer to home. Closer to home, you often have much more time with an animal, but with traveling, nothing beats the thrill of seeing what’s around the next corner.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

Brown Pelican, Mexico

A brown pelican flies low over the water, looking for a place to rest, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A brown pelican stands in shallow water along the beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A brown pelican stands in shallow water along the beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Finding the right place from which to photograph wildlife takes experience and patience. When arriving at a new location with the intention of photographing wildlife, I first scout the area very similar to how I’d scout for a landscape shot. In this case I’m looking for one place to hunker down that is likely to yeild a good variety of animals with great light.

In this instance, I found a low area of sand jutting out into the water, just inches above the high tide. As it was morning, the sun was at my back, and I could shoot birds wading in the water in three directions, all without moving. I kept still and tried to make very slow movements so as not to spook any subjects.

As I was shooting some smaller birds now coming quite close to me, a large brown pelican arrived on the scene, very close to me. I took the opportunity to get some portrait shots of this beautiful specimen while it was preening, and generally not paying me any attention. I don’t believe I would have been able to approach this bird this closely if I had been stalking it. But by remaining in one spot and being still, I created a space that seemed safe for a variety of birds to approach me.

A brown pelican flies low over the water, looking for a place to rest, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A brown pelican flies low over the water, looking for a place to rest, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated location, and soon other beach goers wandered by without any thought to disturbing wildlife. My only reaction was to prepare for the pelican’s inevitable takeoff, and make sure I captured it in camera.

Royal Tern

A royal tern flies low over a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A royal tern stands among a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A royal tern stands among a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Whenever I’m at the beach I take a close look at any shorebirds I see, scanning to see if there is an uncommon species in the bunch. On a recent trip to Mexico, I was rewarded with great views (and photographs) of a Royal Tern. This is not necessarily an uncommon species, but one that I don’t get to see often.

When I see a target bird among a larger group, I do my best to isolate it photographically so that it will stand out as a well defined main subject. In this case I wasn’t able to photograph it away from a multitude of sandpipers, but by using the largest aperture I had available, I was able to isolate the tern using depth of field. By focusing on its eye, I made sure it was the only bird it focus, drawing the viewers eye to it.

A royal tern flies low over a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A royal tern flies low over a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

It is also a good idea to be patient, as you never know when you’re going to see action. In this case, I spent some time focused on the tern and was rewarded when it suddenly took flight. I was ready to go, and got several sharp in-flight photos before it disappeared.

The next time you see a large group of shorebirds clustered together, spend a little time picking through the crowd. You might just be surprised what you find!

White-tail Kite Fly By

A white-tailed kite perches on a tree stump, surveying the landscape around it
A white-tailed kite perches on a tree stump, surveying the landscape around it

A little while ago I visited Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto, CA in order to get some photos of some of the white-tail kites that live there. And I was certainly not disappointed. I climbed a large hill in order to get above some of the trees on which they perch while they are not hunting. I quickly saw one of the kites and slowly made my way toward its tree.

A white-tailed kite perches on a tree branch, surveying the landscape around it
A white-tailed kite perches on a tree branch, surveying the landscape around it

With my eye glued to the view finder, I had my lens tight in on this bird, capturing shots of it flying up and back to various branches on the tree. Suddenly a dark form darted by just above the kite. Luckily, my photography training was to shoot first and ask questions later, and I capture a single frame of what I later saw to be another kite flying at the first one.

A male white-tail kite flies past a female, which reacts to his close proximity
A male white-tail kite flies past a female, which reacts to his close proximity

I quickly realized what was going on, as the male came in for another pass, this time reaching his target, and landing on top of the female.

A male white-tail kite approaches a female from behind and mates with it
A male white-tail kite approaches a female from behind and mates with it

The male quickly mated with the female, and just as quickly flew away. And before you ask, yes I do have photos, but hey, this is a family friendly blog!

A male white-tail kite approaches a female from behind and mates with it
A male white-tail kite approaches a female from behind and mates with it

I’ve never seen this before or since, and I definitely know that I wouldn’t have been able to capture these shots if I hadn’t already had the female framed and in focus. Sometimes you just get lucky….