NATURE’S VIEW: The Conspicuous Long-legged Shorebird of the Marsh

Story and photography by Jim Clark

The black-necked stilt has two special places in my bird-loving heart. First, it’s one of the most beautiful and entertaining shorebirds in North America. I can sit watching them for hours. The second reason? Well, that will be revealed later. For now, let’s learn a little bit about this most unique shorebird.

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Black-necked stilt wades in a salt marsh on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. © Jim Clark

Instead of blending into its environment, the stilt stands out. It is a tall, graceful shorebird with black-and-white plumage, thin red legs, and a long, thin pointed black bill. With a supple, measured walk, the stilt looks to be a delicate and fragile creature. It’s not.

Stilts are vocal and aggressive defenders of their nest sites from all potential threats. Through time, the only threat they couldn’t defend against was their near extinction by humans from market hunting in the nineteenth century. But the determination of conservation-minded people and the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 finally afforded protection for stilts and hundreds of other bird species.

Black-necked stilt protects its territory from a willet. © Jim Clark

Black-necked stilt protects its territory from a willet. © Jim Clark

Along the Mid-Atlantic coast where I photograph black-necked stilts, their habitat is a salt marsh with its stands of smooth cordgrass, salt marsh haygrass and black rush, and mosaics of salt pannes, ponds, tidal creeks, and mudflats. Stilts prefer the shallow water pools of the marsh where they feed by probing and gleaning along exposed mudflats and in the shallower portions of the pool.

Stilts are vociferous with their loud and incessant “yip-yip-yip” call when agitated. The clamoring call from several pairs of stilts as they keep an ever-watchful eye over their domain is one of the most enjoyable sounds from the marsh.

A pair of stilts I photographed was busy feeding, preening and keeping a watchful eye over their territory. I watched as the pair fed by pecking on insects on the surface of the water, plunging their heads into the water and herding small fish into the shallow portions of the salt pool. I even witnessed this pair fly above me to grab flying insects.

Black-necked stilt. © Jim Clark

Black-necked stilt. © Jim Clark

For the entire morning I photographed the stilts as they fed and defended their territory from would-be intruders. The low-angled morning light bathed the birds in a nice warm glow, enhancing their rich black plumage and pinkish-red legs. I made a slow, steady approach to where I could sit in the marsh and photograph at a low perspective without disturbing them.

My lens of choice was the 600mm f/4 on a very sturdy tripod. For flight images, I used an 80-400mm VR zoom lens. My ISO was just high enough to keep a fast shutter speed and the great morning light allowed me to use much lower settings.

I promised to give you the second reason that stilts have a special place in my heart. The black-necked stilt is the logo for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station where I lead nature photography workshops. The logo (shown in the photo of me below) appears on all their products—shirts, cups, hats and stationery, for example. And the logo is from an image I captured of a black-necked stilt that morning in the marsh.


Jim at CBFS Sign with his stilt logoA past NANPA president and contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer, Jim is also a nature photography instructor for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son Carson. Jim was also a major contributor to the book, Coal Country. Visit Jim’s website at www.jimclarkphoto.com, blog at www.jimclarkphoto.wordpress.com or visit him on Facebook.

Showcase Images

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Each week www.nanpa.org highlights images from the top 100 submissions of the NANPA Showcase competition. This week’s images are by: Eric Bowles, Betty Sederquist, Hector Astorga, Lance Warley, Ken Archer, Diana Rebman, Douglas James.

 

THIS BIRDING LIFE: Sandhill Cranes Blanketing the Sky & Land

Story and photo by Budd Titlow

A pair of Sandhill cranes feeding in a marshy wetland. © Budd Titlow

A pair of sandhill cranes feeding in a marshy wetland. © Budd Titlow

The brisk spring air was punctuated by a gusty wind as I stood in breathless anticipation beside the main gates. Once inside, we stealthily crept up the steps of the permanent wooden blind where we could see silhouettes of thousands of birds blanketing the riverbed’s shallow channels and naked sandbars.

The world’s oldest surviving bird species, the sandhill crane still appears curiously archaic. With legs dangling and bent in an awkward landing posture, and neck and wings extended, it is reminiscent of the ancient pterodactyl, the extinct flying reptile. Fossilized remains of the sandhill have been found in Nebraska sediments dating from the Lower Pliocene, some nine million years ago. This has led scientists to theorize that today’s sandhill crane has remained unchanged since that long-ago epoch. Continue reading

Showcase Images

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Each week www.nanpa.org highlights images from the top 100 submissions of the NANPA Showcase competition. This week’s images are by: Tony Frank, F.M. Kearney, Mark Lagrange, Gabby Salazar, Nancy Hoyt Belcher, Ian Frazier, Matthew Hyner.

 

UAVs AND AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY: Ethics

Story and photography by Ralph Bendjebar

As the use of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) has become more commonplace in aerial photography and videography, the inevitable questions arise about their ethical use: What are the responsibilities of operators to ensure that they comply not only with the legal restrictions concerning commercial use (FAA Certificate of Authority and legal use in the National Airspace), but also the responsibility to adhere to the ethical standards we impose upon ourselves when doing land-based photography/videography.

We as photographers/videographers have a responsibility to tread lightly when photographing nature. If we disturb wildlife in the act of recording images or footage by altering the behavior of the animal or disrupting its environment, we have crossed an ethical boundary that is hard to justify. Most of us have a reasonable sense of when that boundary is crossed. For example, if a safari vehicle intersects a cheetah in the act of stalking prey, forcing it to abandon the hunt, that is unacceptable from an ethical standpoint. But if that same vehicle causes zebras or wildebeest to maneuver out of the way, most of us would consider that acceptable. The line between what is and is not considered ethical can be difficult to determine, but the question that needs to be asked is: Does my act of recording images/footage interfere with the normal behavior of the animal? Continue reading

NATIONAL PARKS: Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Story and photography by Jerry Ginsberg

Frigid Crags - Gates of the Arctic. © Jerry Ginsberg

Frigid Crags – Gates of the Arctic. © Jerry Ginsberg

In the far northern reaches of our nation, there rest vast tracts of pristine wilderness; remote, accessible only with great effort and devoid of all but a few people. This is truly the last frontier, just as primeval as were the Rocky Mountain states two centuries ago. Here, far above the Arctic Circle, people are few and roads are nonexistent. Continue reading

Melissa Groo on Ethics in Wildlife Photography

Story and Photos by Melissa Groo

In British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, a mother grizzly bear pauses with a freshly caught salmon before retreating into the forest with her cub.

In British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, a mother grizzly bear pauses with a freshly caught salmon before retreating into the forest with her cub. © Melissa Groo

As Melissa Groo explains in her Outdoor Photographer article Finding the Right Track back in March- “Now, more than ever, we need an open discussion on the ethics of wildlife photography. This is the best time in history to be a wildlife photographer, and this is the worst time in history to be a wild animal. That statement might sound extreme, but consider the facts. It has never been easier to find a wild subject. Online databases, photography forums, texting and social media yield instant information on the location of a bird or other animal—often with GPS coordinates. Workshops that promise spectacular shots of wildlife in thrilling destinations abound. Thermal-imaging devices locate dens and nests; camera traps, drones and buggies find and track elusive animals. It also has never been easier to actually photograph a wild subject. Current lens technology, AF systems, and gear lightness and maneuverability make stunning images easily within reach of both amateurs and professionals. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us when we’re out in the field. If we work within the bounds of patience, respect and an understanding of the challenges wild animals face, we’ll be on the right track.” Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Making Something Out of Nothing

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

One of the hardest parts of creative photography is trying to figure out how to make an ordinary subject look extraordinary (or, at least, a bit more interesting). It’s not so easy to know when to stop and take notice of something that most people would simply pass by without giving it a second glance—that is, if they ever glanced at it in the first place. I experienced something like that during a recent visit to the New York Botanical Garden. I was there to shoot the roses, but I arrived before the rose garden opened. To kill some time, I passed through the hydrangea area, which was in full bloom. I had seen hydrangeas many times before, but I never considered photographing them. Nothing really special stood out about them. Since I had the time, I decided to stop and give them a more serious look. I spent several minutes surveying them from many angles before the seeds of inspiration slowly began to sprout.

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NATURE’S VIEW: Maybe it’s time

Story and photography by Jim Clark

 Spring morning, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark


Spring morning, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia. © Jim Clark

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Spring!

Spring who?

Doesn’t matter, it’s spring!

Yep, spring is entering our world and I bet most of you are fine-tuning your equipment, adjusting your winter-weary attitude and charting locations to explore and photograph. You are doing this, right? Continue reading