Tag Archives: Bird

Photographing Ding Darling

Florida is not just popular for “snow birds”, it is popular for all kinds of birds.  One of the hottest attractions for bird photographers is J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island near Ft. Meyers.  The refuge is part of the United States Wildlife Refuge System. It is famous for its migratory bird population.  Most photographers will find plenty to shot along the four miles of Wildlife Drive that takes you through mangrove tree forests and tidal flats.  What makes a photographer’s life even more interesting is that Sanibel Island is a tourist attraction by itself, with nice beaches and good restaurants, although most choose to go straight to the beaches.  It is a relaxing place to be while I don’t take pictures, and certainly makes it easy to convince my family to come along.

The hours of operation is my principle complaint.  The refuge opens at 7 a.m. and closes at sunset.  It also closes every Friday.  I anxiously waited outside of the gate every morning, watched the sun rising behind me, missed the best light of day, and the best bird action of the morning when most of birds take off together from the tidal flats they spent the night at.  Well, U.S. government is not known to be photographer friendly.

Nevertheless, Ding Darling is a bird photographer’s paradise.  What is remaining after 7:00am is still enough to give any wildlife photographer a real treat.  There are plenty wake up calls after 7:00am.

Wake up Call

And plenty of action even the light is not the best.

Just Caught a Crab

The most intriguing bird at Ding Darling is probably the Spoonbill.  God must have thought the feathers are too pretty.  He gave her an ugly head to be fair to the entire bird species.  Nevertheless, I love her just for her feather.

Pink Panther

The Great Escape

The Great Escape

I was at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico in January 2012 to photograph snow geese. The refuge is home to tens of thousands of snow geese each winter. Also, there must be tens of thousands of Red Winged Blackbirds there.

When I was photographing snow geese one afternoon, I noticed a group of blackbirds at distance. They travel in a huge group. The way these blackbirds move is like a rolling dust ball. While the birds at front of the group land, the birds in the back of group take off, fly over the group and then land at front. The process continues on so that the whole group moves like a huge ball rolling around the farmland.

I was photographing a group of snow geese in front of me. When I saw these blackbirds at distance, I knew these blackbirds might scare off the white geese when they roll over them. I waited about half an hour for this event to happen while patiently kept the spot focus on the snow geese on the ground.  When it happened, I fired away some 10 shots over one second.  Among them, this was the only one where the snow goose was unobstructed.  I waited for another 45 minutes or so.  It happened again.  This time I caught a pair of snow geese.  I waited there until sunset, but the blackbirds never returned.

The Great Escape

I often pre-visualize when I photograph landscape, but wildlife photography is largely a spontaneous sport.  This was one of the rare moments I pre-visualized in wildlife photography.  I wanted to place the snow geese among a contrasting background of numerous blackbirds before I took this picture.   So my focus was always on the snow geese while I was waiting for arrival of the army of blackbirds.  I had this idea, and I knew it was going to be a special shot.  Fortunately, I did not have to wait too long for it.  When I saw my picture on the back of my camera, I knew I nailed it.

The difficulty of taking this shot was to capture the right moment and to keep the focus on the snow geese.  The large amount of blackbirds can easily confuse the focus system of a camera.  It happened so quickly that it is almost impossible to take this shot spontaneously.  I kept my spot focus on the snow geese who were standing on the ground, and patiently waited.  When the moment came, my concentration was on this single snow goose, completely ignored the blackbirds and fired away in high speed.

I titled the pictures as “Escape” because I want to convey a feeling that innocent snow geese escaping an overwhelming dark force.