Many photographers have backyard bird feeders and enjoy photographing their avian visitors. Beginning in May, though, wildlife managers in a number of mid-Atlantic states, from New Jersey through Florida and as far west as Indiana, began seeing sick and dying birds. Audubon, Science and a number of other media outlets have reported that the distressed birds had swollen, crusty eyes and some neurological symptoms. Because birds are at increased risk of transmitting diseases when congregating at feeders, authorities in the eleven affected states (NJ, DE, PA, KY, WV, MD, VA, IN, OH, TN, FL) and the District of Columbia are recommending that people stop feeding birds altogether. And, if you are in or around the affected states and encounter sick or dead birds, wildlife managers urge you to contact your state or district wildlife conservation agency for instructions and to help them track this outbreak.
During 2020 and the COVID-19 quarantines, many of us took the time to think about what is important to us and what truly makes us happy. I am just one of the many people who did some self-reflection and now view my life with a new and different perspective. Like most of us, I realized that we don’t need to travel far to enjoy nature’s beauty. It took a pandemic to show me that beauty is also in my backyard or in a small county park close to me. Before COVID-19, I didn’t really see the beauty that surrounded me or, perhaps, took it for granted. COVID-19 showed me that many different bird species visit my backyard and that the species sometimes change with the seasons; that a wide variety of flowers bloom in my community; and that there are several local animal species that I have overlooked for the past 15 years that I’ve resided in New Jersey.
I recently took a road trip to Goshen’s Falconry Excursions in upstate New York. It’s an amazing place with all kinds of birds of prey—owls, eagles, hawks, falcons, and vultures, among others. The owner has set up one of the largest privately owned and operated raptor breeding programs in the country. On my camera for this birding adventure was the new Tamron 150-500mm F/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD (Model A057), an ultra-telephoto zoom that’s Tamron’s first model for Sony E-mount full-frame mirrorless cameras equipped with Vibration Compensation (VC) technology. It can also be used with APS-C cameras for that extra crop factor.
Editor’s note: Massachusetts-based photographer Rajan Desai is a frequent contributor to the NANPA Facebook Group but it’s not often he gets the kind of reaction he saw after posting “Least Tern Courtship.” That photo reached more than 3,500 people, generated 563 engagements, and inspired 44 comments, including “Beautiful photo. It’s like an image of ballet. I can hear the music in my head.” and “Fabulous capture!! I like your explanation of the courtship rituals also. So well done!” His detailed caption explained the birds’ behavior, but what else made the photo so compelling? We asked Desai to tell us about how he got the shot.
I started photographing burrowing owls in 2016. They’ve become one of my favorite subjects. I can’t resist these little characters with all their expressions. After a session, I can’t wait to get home to look through the images to see what I’ve captured. When I got to these three owls, their interactions with each other were amazing, but what really stood out was this little owl showing off his ability to levitate. The two things I strive to capture in an image are emotion and/or moments you wouldn’t be able to see with the naked eye.
Bill Kracov photographed these egrets back in 2015 but only recently posted the shot to the NANPA Facebook group where the 21,000 members showered it with more than 1,500 interactions and 124 comments, and counting. It was one of the most popular posts in the group during April. So, what makes it so engaging? To find out, we talked with Kracov.
This photo is special to me because it evokes emotion. My goal as a photographer is to capture pictures in such a way that the viewer will feel the same thing I feel at the time of the photo. There are some pictures that I think are great as a photographer, but they don’t resonate with others. I could tell immediately after sharing this picture that it evoked the kind of emotion in others that would help facilitate positive change. It has been used by conservationists throughout Louisiana to help clean up our stormwater collection system and bring attention to our litter and pollution problems.
Through my photography I try to portray the character or spirit of a bird. Often that involves capturing behavior that represents some distinctive aspect of that particular bird’s lifestyle. It’s extra rewarding if I can achieve that vision in a unique or artistic way as with this black skimmer in flight. We see the astonishing blade-like bill with which it skims the water’s surface to capture fish, a bill so thin in cross-section that, seen from the front, almost disappears from view. The unusual head-on view, the symmetry and verticality of the wings, the shallow depth of field drawing attention to the bird’s eyes—factors that all came together to produce a compelling image. Framing a bird flying toward you at close range can be extremely difficult, but I love a challenge and in this case the reward totally outweighed the effort.
My main objective with photography is to share the wonders of nature that might not be easy for others to witness firsthand. With bird photography, I love being able to freeze nature in motion and capture details that the naked eye cannot see. I also try to pre-establish a vision of what I want to achieve on a specific trip. During the workshop where I got the great kiskadee shot, my focus was on action shots that would help the viewer appreciate the speed, dexterity and beauty of the species. With wildlife photography, I spend a significant amount of time learning the behavior of my subjects, and being able to predict this great kiskadee’s consistent flight pattern was key to achieving this shot. I loved how the action of this beautiful bird was captured.
How I got the shot
This shot of a great kiskadee attracted to pyracantha berries was captured in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The shot was a challenge due to overcast skies, thus requiring a high ISO due to the depth of field and high shutter speed required for the desired outcome. The overcast skies were also a blessing, as they reduced shadows and gave me better flexibility with sun angle. I pre-focused in manual mode to where the birds were consistently eating berries. Then using my handheld shutter release fired away. It was very gratifying when preparation and vision all came together for this photo.
In these days of COVID-19, very little seems normal. Our daily routines have been drastically altered. That certainly includes travel and photography. Had this been a normal year, I would have traveled to both Switzerland and Argentine Patagonia. Under the circumstances neither country was about to allow entry to foreign tourists. After tolerating cabin fever for just so long, I had to at least get in the car and go someplace where I could photograph some natural beauty.
The national park and, by far, greatest nature preserve closest to my home is Everglades at the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. Since I hadn’t been there in several years (as a species, we frequently seem to avoid the easiest options), it seemed like the obvious choice. So, in early December I packed up and headed south. Once finding a convenient and presumably sanitized motel in nearby Florida City, I began cruising through this very familiar more than one million-acre wilderness of avian and reptile life, swampy prairie, and slow moving river of grass.