Quick Shot: Puma

Warthogs were not terribly high on my list of 'must see' animals in while in Tanzania, but I was surprised to find them far cuter and more interesting than expected. Their skin is actually covered in a thick and bristle fur and they have some funny behaviors - for instance, when they run in a group, they always stick their tails straight up in the air. This reminded me a bit of remote control antennas - the tip of the tail was sometimes all you could see. The warthog was also surprisingly brave - we saw a warthog take on a cheetah when it was irritated that the cheetah was walking through his territory. And when rummaging in the ground, the warthog often gets down on his knees to get that big face closer to the dirt.

Here's two shots of the warthogs - one is a momma with her babies and the second is a warthog on his knees.

Quick Shot: Hungry Killdeer

Hunting for a good meal as a bird is significantly more challenging in the winter, particularly when snow and ice can cover the ground and deny access to food. This winter has been particularly harsh along the east coast with almost constant snow. 

The Potomac River has been partially frozen at times, but I found a spot in Maryland where the ice had melted enough for this adult killdeer to fish in the shallows for a meal. I was stalking him for several minutes to allow him to get comfortable with my presence and so that he could resume his natural feeding behavior. When he started to feed again, he would pick up small clams in his beak and throw them back into the water, probably hoping to find one he could open and eat. In this quick shot, I caught him right as he splashed the clam back into the water and you can see the small droplets from the splash he created.

When photographing birds like this, it's important to try and shoot as close to "birds eye view" as possible and let the wildlife acclimate to your presence. I'd been waiting almost 15 minutes before I got this photograph - patience is important! 

I shot this with my Nikon 80-400mm lens and used my SB-700 flash with Better Beamer Flash Extender to help bring some light out in the dreary winter day.

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Quick Shot: Surprise Gift

Nature sometimes gives me a gift and presents a tantalizing subject on a silver platter. Today, I got such a surprise gift from a Osprey. 

I was near a little pond photographing a green heron, when I noticed the heron's body suddenly tense as he looked skyward. One of the first things I learned in wildlife photography was to watch the body language of my subject for clues about other wildlife or to anticipate interesting behavior. When I saw the heron tense and look up, I knew he'd seen a predator. 

Turning my lens in the direction of his gaze, I saw a large Osprey had just landed on a tree feet away from me. His feathers were soaked because he'd just been diving for a fish, which he clutched in his talons. I immediately started snapping away and watching as the Osprey used his beak to rip off chunks of fish for lunch. After a few minutes, he decided it was time to take his lunch to a new location and I snapped this shot right as he left his perch.  

I like this shot because you can clearly see the fish in his talons. Nature presented me with a gift today, and I did my best job to capture it so that I could share this experience with you. Hope you like it! 

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Quick Shot: Empty Handed

I was hoping to spend some time on a nice photo journey today, but the weather in DC wasn't the best, so I decided to stick to my favorite local spot (Mason Neck State Park). Being a weekday morning, I knew I would probably be the only person out there and would have prime bird watching.  

As I geared up, I heard the calls of an Osprey flying over the water, followed by the occasional splash as he dove into the water for fish. I historically haven't faired well when photographing these Osprey - the site doesn't allow me to get as close as I like to my subject.  

Not deterred by my past performances, I decided to spend a few minutes watching the fishing ritual. I watched as the Osprey would make a few laps up and down the coast. Right before diving into the water, the Osprey would pull up and pause over a spot in the water, before dive bombing like a jet into the water. He would disappear for just a second under the water and then emerge again.  

I photographed several rounds of this fishing behavior, hoping to get a shot of him holding his catch in his talons. Osprey are the only raptor that carries their prey parallel to their body (hawks and other raptors carry their prey perpendicular to their body), which makes for a nice photo if you can catch the bird with a fish in hand. Unfortunately, in the time I spent watching, the Osprey never managed to catch a meal and eventually left, empty handed. 

I snapped this shot after the Osprey surfaced empty handed. I liked this particular image because he stayed at water level a little longer, almost in an act of frustration. While the Osprey may have been empty handed today, I left with a treat!

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Quick Shot: Fawn

When I am out photographing birds, I tend to have my eyes up in the trees or scanning the sky. I was walking through Pickering Creek, MD with my eyes on the sky when I heard a sudden sound and my peripheral vision noticed something large moving on the ground.

It was a deer fawn, just a few weeks old. He'd ventured into the marshland to enjoy some of the tall grasses and I'd surprised him as I strolled down the path.  

I brought the camera up and took a few shots of him chewing before he decided he didn't want to be around me. With wobbly legs, he bounded back into the forest. 

The entire interaction lasted less than 10 seconds and is one of many reasons I ALWAYS carry my camera at the ready (camera on, flash on, settings dialed in, lens cap off). If I wasn't ready, there's no doubt that I wouldn't have gotten the shot. 

Nikon D800 with NIkon 80-400mm lens and SB-600 flash. 

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Quick Shot: Three Ladies

One of the photos I wanted to get while at Assateague Island was that of a herd of horses together on the beach. Unfortunately, the horses never face the same direction (one will always turn around and show you his butt as soon as the others all turn to face you!). 

I decided to isolate a group of three female horses that were standing aside from the herd and focus on instead shooting them as a group. Luckily, they had their back to the ocean so I could really capture the story of wild horses standing on the beach. 

Even luckier, they were facing into the sun during sunset, which cast a soft warm light on their faces. 

I waited until the gesture was perfect and made only one click - that's all I needed. 

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Quick Shot: Reflection

Sometimes it's not the subject that makes a photo interesting, it's the pose and gesture of that subject. 

For today's Quick Shot, I've taken a bird that we've all seen a zillion times and captured him in a unique gesture. This Willet, found in the marshes of Assateague Island, was foraging in the sand for dinner. I captured him right as he looked down into the marsh water, giving you the impression that he's looking in a mirror at himself. 

Gesture in our subjects is just as important as the lighting and exposure.  

And in this case, the gesture made this Quick Shot worth viewing! 

Shot with the Nikon D800 and Nikon 80-400mm lens. A -0.5 exposure compensation was used and the photo was edited in Adobe Photoshop CS6.  

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Quick Shot: Great Egret

I decided to mix things up and it paid off! Normally I try to do bird photography in the late evening at Mason Neck State Park - the park doesn't open until 8am so I've never tried to shoot an early morning. This weekend, however, I decided to mix things up and try going when the park opened because the weather was expected to be 15 degrees cooler.  

Not only was the weather better in the morning, but so were the birds! I was the first person down the trail in the morning, which meant I had to deal with overnight spider webs that had been strung, but I also had the best views of the wildlife.  

Normally I'm happy to see one or two large birds (egrets or herons) but I must have seen 20 or more today.

Normally I'm happy to leave with one or two decent shots but today I got four or five. 

The winner, for me, was to see this Great Egret. I'd spent an hour photographing an Egret the week prior, but wasn't happy with how any of the shots came out. This Egret perked himself on a nice log for me, which helped to isolate him from the background. 

I shot at f/6.7 and 1,500th of a second with the SB-700 flash and Better Beamer Flash Extender attached to the flash. The lens was the Nikon 80-400mm lens at 400mm... look at the amazing detail it captures!  I did post production in Adobe Photoshop CS6.  

 

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Quick Shot: Yellow Billed Cuckoo

If you haven't noticed, one of my favorite local bird spots is Mason Neck State Park, just minutes from my home. I headed out again this weekend to see what I could find and made friends quickly.  

No sooner am I setup than this Yellow Billed Cuckoo dropped into a favorite perch. Although he's not the most colorful bird, I am fascinated by how steep they hold their tail feathers. He hopped around this twig for several minutes before heading out, but it was long enough for me to snag this shot. 

Shot with Nikon D800, Nikon 80-400mm lens, Gitzo Tripod and edited with Adobe Photoshop. Enjoy! 

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Quick Shot: Friendly Bear

Last week I took a day trip to Blackwater Falls Park in West Virginia (see yesterday's Quick Shot blog with more details) . My trip was designed to photograph waterfalls, but I got a particularly special and unexpected treat.

Driving along the road between two waterfalls, I was shocked to see a black bear sitting by the side of the road. It's a bit unusual to see a black bear at high noon in the middle of the road, but I didn't pass the opportunity! 

The bear was on the passenger side of the car and very close - less than 50 feet from my car. Being in the middle of the road, it wasn't a great place to get out and take a shot and I was afraid I'd spook the bear back into the woods. I decided to use my car as a blind and shoot across the car through the passenger side window. 

I grabbed the camera from the passenger seat but cursed myself for only having the 24-70mm in place. I normally try to have the telephoto in place when driving in the event of a wildlife spotting, but hadn't made the switch as I commuted between the two falls. Thankfully, the bear being so close worked just fine at 70mm. 

I shot the bear for a few minutes while he scratched at the ground. My car side view mirror is visible in several of the shots, but with the resolution of the D800, I was able to crop that out and still have a great resolution image.  

The final image was shot with the D800, Nikon 24-70mm at 70mm and through the side of the car window. Lesson learned: ALWAYS have the telephoto lens equipped. At least I had the camera positioned to grab quickly and the lens cap was already off! 

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Quick Shot(s): Feeding

This weekend I set my sights on a new destination in Northern Virginia to photograph birds and wildlife. I headed out to Dyke Marsh, just north of Mount Vernon, which is rumored to be one of the best places for bird sightings in the area. 

Feeling inspired from the friendly Blue Heron from last week, I wanted to see if I could find some similar birds, such as Egrets, out feeding. Low tide was expected at 1:30pm - many birds search the exposed beach during low tide for their next meal. 

It was a hot weekend so I was sure to pack a small camp stool and plenty of water so that I could setup a mini camp and wait for the birds to arrive. I hiked 3/4s of the way down the trail at Dyke Marsh before finding an area where I could cut to the waters edge. I (thankfully) found a shady spot to setup where I could watch several areas of the marsh at once.

I was immediately greeted with two Northern Water Snakes and a few cardinals, which had me optimistic for some great birding. I settled into position and began to wait. 

And wait. 

And wait some more. 

After two hours in the blistering heat, my water supplies and patience were running low. I'd seen some ducks and a few fishermen since setting up, but no signs of any of the birds I came to see. With the tide starting to return, I packed my bags.

Not every photo trip is a success - I've come to accept that there are plenty of days where I may return with nothing to show for my efforts. Even still, I love going out in search of the next great moment I'll share with nature. 

As I started the hike back to the car I heard an unusual sound. It was clearly a bird chirp, but it didn't sound like the other birds. It was too high pitch. 

I identified the source of the high pitched chirping a moment later coming from a small birds nest high in a tree. Birds nests have always posed a challenge to photograph - they are usually too high in a tree with too many leaves around to get a good angle to photograph. This nest, however, was clearly visible from the ground with minimal obstruction. I decided to setup my camera with the hope that one of the baby birds would pop it's head out from the nest. 

No sooner am I setup than I see a bright yellow Orchard Oriole sitting in the tree just below the nest. She was holding an insect in her mouth and watching my every movement. I fired off a series of photos. Despite my big flash, she must have decided I didn't pose a threat and began feeding her young. The pink beaks of the birds were barely visible poking out from the top of the nest.

I was thrilled. Seeing, much less photographing, a mom feeding her young is a bucket list item for most photographers. I wasn't prepared for the possibility that it'd continue to happen. 

For the next hour I sat and watched as the male and female Orchard Oriole took turns coming to the nest every five minutes to deliver more insects to the young birds.  I got several great shots, but narrowed it down to these three to tell the story.

Shot with Nikon D800, Nikon 80-400mm lens, Nikon SB-700 flash with Better Beamer, Gitzo tripod. 

 

The female Orchard Oriole scoping me out. She was just bringing some new insects to the nest.

The female Orchard Oriole scoping me out. She was just bringing some new insects to the nest.

The young birds would cry out for their parents after they left the nest in search of more bugs. They looked so incredibly frail, yet packed a loud chirp!

The young birds would cry out for their parents after they left the nest in search of more bugs. They looked so incredibly frail, yet packed a loud chirp!

The male Orchard Oriole delivering some fresh insects to his young. There were at least two babies in this nest.

The male Orchard Oriole delivering some fresh insects to his young. There were at least two babies in this nest.