Saturday, April 28, 2012

Down and Dirty Birding

American Oystercatcher
Fort De Soto (Feb 2012)
As a birder, I'm always happy to come home having seen wonderful birds and interesting bird behavior.  But as bird photographer, I also want to come home with the best photos I could possibly take.  When I began photographing birds, I had very little interest in getting dirty--even getting a little sweaty was somewhat irritating; I wanted to come home basically as I left--nice and clean.  But now that I've been photographing birds for a while, I've realized there's a cost to getting the best possible photographs--bird photography may claim your cleanliness, and it may even claim a little bit of your dignity.

Painted Bunting Taunting Me
Mead Gardens (Apr 2012)
I was at Mead Gardens near Orlando, FL yesterday morning.  The Painted Bunting above was perched slightly higher than the floor of the boardwalk I was walking on, and she was perched so close to the railing that I knew if I walked close enough to get a clean shot she would fly away.  Eventually I decided the only thing I could do is lay down on my belly right on the boardwalk and photograph the bird through the railings. Once on my belly, I inched closer to get the shot below.  The other people there must have thought I was pretty strange, but I didn't mind sacrificing a little of my dignity to get the shot.

Painted Bunting
Through the board walk at Mead Gardens (Apr 2012)
Fort De Soto is one of my favorite places to get wet and dirty.  The north beach area has both morphs of my favorite egret, the Reddish Egret.  I was there in February while both were there in a shallow water pool.  So I waded into the water and crouched down.  I've found that if I stay low and still, these birds often don't mind coming relatively close to me.  In fact, they sometimes come so close that I can't get their whole body in the frame.  But to crouch down low in the water, I couldn't help but let the seat of my pants get wet.  I'm sure I was a sight to behold when I left the pool, but I got some of my favorite shots of Reddish Egrets.

Reddish Egret
Fort De Soto (Feb 2012)
Wilson's Plovers and Sanderlings were also there in abundance, but the only way to get the shots I wanted was to lay down in the sand, fully clothed. I spent the rest of the evening nice and sandy.

Wilson's Plover
Fort De Soto (Feb 2012)
Sanderling
Fort De Soto (Feb 2012)
On another day I was wearing long pants (like a fool).  I decided to wade across a channel of water to another point of sand. I tried rolling my jeans up to get across to no avail.  Eventually I just had to let the legs of my pants get wet.  But this American Oystercatcher flew by me nice and close to congratulate me for my sacrifice.  I tried to remember this as I walked around the park in sloshy pants.

American Oystercatcher
Fort De Soto (Feb 2012)
I nearly reached my limit when I was photographing a few Pine Warblers.  In order to get this shot, I found myself covered in sand spurs. I do not have fond memories of removing these, but every time I look at my photos, I convince myself it was worth it.


Pine Warbler
Fort De Soto (Feb 2012)
So how great a sacrifice is worth getting the shot?  The temptation, I think especially for bird photographers, is to get as close to the bird as possible.  The closer you are, the bigger the bird in your frame, and the better the shot.  At some point, however, we're not just approaching a bird, we're disturbing a bird and disrupting its sense of normalcy.  As photographers, we have a vested interest in keeping our distance, since if we disturb the birds, they will leave.  So I keep a safe (even if wet, dirty and undignified) spot, and if they approach me, great.  Otherwise, I don't want to sacrifice the bird's sense of safety for a shot.  That ruins the experience not just for me now, but perhaps for other birders and photographers in the future.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Fort De Soto (Feb 2012)
Two days ago, I found a tree with two Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and one Northern Parula.  Both species were buzzing around the tree.  The Gnatcatchers were particularly bold.  They frequently would fly out of the tree, catch a bug, and fly back. Sometimes they would fly just feet from my head.  So I just stayed put.  They felt safe, and I just stayed where I was and held the shutter down when the landed in a good spot.  We had a great time.

Northern Parula
Private Location in Lake Mary, FL
And in fact, this experience with the gnatcatchers and parula reminded me of one of the greatest joys of birding.  This year I set a goal for myself to see a certain number of species, and as I inch closer to my goal it's easy to begin to care more about the number than the birds. I have parulas and gnatcatchers on my list for the year many times over.  I don't "need" them to attain my goal.  But who could deny that watching them in action is a big part of what makes birding so fun?

Scott Simmons
Learn Outdoor Photography

16 comments:

  1. These shots are fabulous and so worth getting dirty :) I especially love the egret and Wilson's plover - such a lovely walk :)

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  2. I'm a "down & dirty" bird photographer from way back and it is a great way to enter into the bird's world and bring your viewers along with you. I applaud you for settingling in and allowing the birds to move closer to you if they want instead of possibly scaring the birds away. Well done Scott.

    I tried explaining to my mom how I got a reputation for getting down & dirty, I think she thought it meant something else until I told her it was how I photographed birds from such a low angle. :-)

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    1. Thanks, Mia. Yea, I guess the vocabulary could be a little misleading. :-)

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  3. Hola amiga, que pedazo de fotos, una serie realmente preciosa, te felicito.

    Un abrazo.

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  4. Some lovely photos here Scott, and you're right: Sometimes you have to sacrifice dignity and laundry for a good photo. So totally worth it!

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  5. Tammy, if it's the price for taking such beautiful pictures, you get repayed your "dirtiness" by the satisfaction. You can really be proud of your work!!
    the american oystercracker impresses by the colours of the eyes and paws!the reddish egret looks like had a painted beak! :-)

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  6. Always great to get dirty to capture the best shot in the wild - Thanks for posting and good work Simon :)

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  7. Thanks for getting dirty so we could enjoy these fine images!

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  8. Fantastic photograph, magical colours, beautiful birds. I am greeting

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  9. Wow! Getting "down and dirty" has certainly paid off for you. Scott, your photographs are fabulous! Your respect for the birds safety and well being, first and foremost, is certainly admirable. Awesome post!

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  10. My compliments for these very very nice pictures.....you have photographed these birds so fantastic.

    Greetings, Joop

    many thanks for your comment

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  11. Love the bottom oystercathcer photo! Great shot!!

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    1. Thanks, Ron. That's one of my favorites too.

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