It’s a bone-chilling 16 degrees on New Year’s Day 2018. San Domingo Creek is frozen all the way across to the islands, an unusual local occurrence. I see 13 Tundra Swans among the myriad of geese hunkered down on the ice to protect from the northern blast. My birdbath heater cannot keep up with the deep freeze so I make frequent trips outside with pans of hot water and a hammer to break up the ice. Birds need fresh water, even more than seeds, when it gets this cold.
At year-end I like to review the photos of the previous 365 days and pick some winners. “Best” is hard to define. Some are favorites because I remember the effort or circumstances of their origins. Some are photographically good but others perhaps not so, but make the cut for other reasons. I tried to choose a variety of flight shots, feeding birds, international birds, portraits, etc. Hope you enjoy the gallery.
The lead photo is a colorful Roseate Spoonbill trawling for breakfast in a Florida swamp. Along with the unusual pink hue I think the disturbed water and reflection make it a winner. The mergansers’ reflections in the water of the Florida drainage ditch and the pleasing green background earned those birds a place in infamy.
You all know that flight shots require a little skill and a lot of luck. I caught the Brown Pelican just at the apogee of his dive when motion was minimal, but missed his splash down seconds later. The flyby of the Sandwich Tern is included. I like the blurred horizon on the Gulf of Mexico and the exposure and sharpness of this less common tern.
One could easily fill the entire year-end blog with the colorful warblers seen last May at the famous Magee Marsh in Ohio. I’ll limit myself to just three. Just think, these birds in alternate plumage just travelled 1000+ miles from Central or South America to the shore of Lake Erie and most still had miles to go before reaching their breeding grounds. I was lucky enough to catch them at their rest stop. The squawking American Redstart was telling me to back off and let him rest. I chose the Chestnut-sideds for their unusual poses. The obscuring leaf reminds me of the flitting, feeding frenzy of these beautiful birds.
When you are lucky enough to find an owl in good light you can usually get a decent shot. But the birds tend to be still and boringly cooperative; you’d rather some action and not just another portrait. The Spotted Owlet from Rajasthan India was included not for its action, but rather for the filtered sunlight exactly striking the eye. For owl shots, its all about the eyes.
As readers of this blog know (and may be tired of being reminded) we spent October in India. Just like Magee Marsh I could fill this gallery with the Indian lifers, but I’ll spare you and just post a few. The Brown-headed Barbet is the strangest creature with its Groucho Marx nose and pose. The Blue-tailed Bee-eater and Bank Myna are common birds in India but I liked these open-mouthed shots. I spent some time trying to photograph the elusive Wire-tailed Swallow when one landed right in front of me in perfect light, practically begging for a picture.
The last Indian birds are the upside down Lesser Goldenback, and the more conventional poses of the Jacobin Cuckoo and Crested Kingfisher. Sometimes boring is beautiful.
Feeding shots are always fun. That Snowy Egret caught the large insect on Vanderbilt Beach in Florida and spent the next 20 minutes killing it and figuring out how to swallow it. It was quite a spectacle and that particular meal may have been a first for the egret. The Royal Tern had an easier time swallowing the small slippery eel.
The same beach was blessed with a huge flock of shorebirds last November. I planted myself right down into the sand and slowly inched forward to get some eye-level shots of the action. That Sandwich Tern nearly landed on the backs of its companions. The knife-thin bill of the Black Skimmer seen head-on is a favorite. I was relishing my position within the flock when a young giggly humanoid raced forward and ended my session. I at least captured the chaotic flock as it took off for a quieter stretch of sand.
This is the time of year that birds think about pairing up. I caught these two Cattle Egrets likely on a first date, sizing up the possibilities. The Red-shouldered Hawks were caught further along, probably “in the act” or at least during serious preliminaries. There was just no privacy on that treetop.
I’ll end 2017 with a boring portrait of a Tricolor Heron, saved from the delete bin by the beautiful texture and detail of its close-up feathers captured on the field of green. It’s now time to bundle up and head out to start the 2018 collection. You never know what may turn up. There’s a rumor that Snowy Owls have been spotted on Assateague Island.