Thursday, July 19, 2012

Birds Flocking Together

As a bird photographer I am usually trying to isolate a single bird or small group of birds to photograph but I'm also unable to resist taking images of small or large flocks of birds.
American White Pelicans soaring in the thermals above the Great Salt Lake
 The Great Salt Lake attracts many species of birds and quite often they can be seen in flocks on the salty water of the lake, in the freshwater areas surrounding it or in the sky above. American White Pelicans breed in this area and it is simply amazing to see hundreds of these huge white birds soaring on the thermals.
Massive flocks of Eared Grebes on the Great Salt Lake
Eared Grebes are attracted to the Great Salt Lake because of the availability of brine flies, their larvae and brine shrimp which are their preferred prey. These birds fly at night thus are rarely seen in flight but they bob and danced around in the water in numbers well over the thousands.
Northern Shovelers blasting off
From fall through late spring the surface of the Great Salt Lake and surrounding freshwater areas are covered with waterfowl that number in the millions. These Northern Shovelers blasted off from the surface of the lake because a Bald Eagle flew over them. Hearing their wings, the sound of the splashing water and seeing the sheer number of the ducks caused me to catch my breath before I started clicking away at my shutter button.
Wilson's Phalaropes mass lift off
A few weeks ago there were thousands of Wilson's Phalaropes along the causeway to Antelope Island and the large construction trucks present at the time would cause repeated mass lift offs of these small shorebirds when they rumbled by. The sound of the wings reached my ears as I was mesmerized by the Phalaropes flashing from dark to light in what appeared to an undulating continuous wave of birds.
Wilson's Phalaropes in flight against a rainbow
I've also photographed large flocks of Wilson's Phalaropes at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southern Montana. I was photographing from inside a vehicle during a rain/hail storm at the Lower Lake then when the rain stopped for a few moments and the sun peeked through the clouds a rainbow appeared and the Phalaropes flew in front of it.  How delightful was that?
A mixed flock of Brown Pelicans, Black Skimmers, Laughing Gulls plus Royal and Sandwich Terns
While I lived in Florida I was delighted to see this mixed flock of birds during a feeding frenzy caused by large schools of bait fish swimming along the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. There were birds everywhere!
Mass Chaos - Red Knots and Black Skimmers
There are times when human disturbance causes large flocks of bird to lift off at once from where they might have been resting or when predators approach and cause chaos like what is shown in the image above when a Peregrine Falcon flew over. I'm not sure how these birds don't crash into each other in mid air. These Red Knots and Black Skimmers were certainly startled!

Seeing birds in large flocks; whether they are on the land, water or in the air, is a joy and great birding fun!



  1. Wow! What wonderful images - I want to be able to see birds in flocks like this!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Australia

  2. Que d oiseaux ensembles,ca doit etre merveilleux a voir !

  3. amazing shots Mia. I am always blown away by the immense numbers of birds in flocks. I hope to see some flocks like this sometime

  4. Fantastic images, Mia! Such multitudes - you wonder though what future?

  5. Terrific post Mia! Those shots are amazing, especially the phalaropes. We have huge blackbird flocks in AZ, but not much else. It always amazes me to see so many birds.

  6. Massive flocks of birds are one of the most amazing spectacles in the wild and you've captured a few of them brilliantly. We often focus on the beauty of an individual bird, but there is a lot to admire is their group behavior. There are also keys to bird identification in the way that the fly and flock that birders too often ignore.

  7. Thanks to everyone who commented. I appreciate them. I am in the wilds of Montana right now so I am slow to reply.

  8. Wow, marvelous post, Mia! I have never in my life seen bird flocks as large as your photographs show here. They certainly are a glorious sight! Outstanding images! I hope you are having terrific photo opportunities in Montana.

  9. Wonderful post and beautiful photos!