There are lots of genre’s of photography: sports, wildlife, landscape, portrait, etc., just to name a few.
But Birds-in-Flight is it’s own animal, forgive the pun. Before embarking on the long trek to Whitewater Draw I watched dozens of online video’s to help assure that I might come home with some decent images.
I have always shot single point focus as I take a lot of close up animals and landscape photos. But for BIF it was recommended that I use zone area to focus on a larger area (and improve my chances of getting a sharp image). While I was there, a kind photographer, JT, suggested I use the eye-focus that my camera offered. I must say, I found it very awkward and somewhat difficult. However, once I got more used to it, I found myself enjoying the fast focus ability of these new fancy cameras. Thanks, JT, for the great tip.
The eye focus had a particularly hard time picking out the eye in darker conditions, so I had to switch back to single point (or nine-point) focus for those situations. During the daylight hours I had better success, yet still struggled for the camera to focus on what I wanted to while recomposing the shot.
A fast shutter speed is essential to obtain a sharp photo, and not a streaky blur. However, in the early morning hours it was difficult to maintain a fast shutter speed, large enough aperture to get decent depth of field, and as low as possible ISO to reduce noise, even on a tripod. Admittedly, the daytime photos were easier to capture tack sharp pix.
I did learn that the closer the bird, and less distractions, the better the focus worked – and made for a cleaner more interesting photo. I also quickly realized that ‘bird butts’ make for a less than interesting photos, and it was best to pan across to get a profile or head shot.
Of course, wildlife photography is best with action shots and ‘gesture’. If I can capture something that has the animal doing something, or looking cute, that photo stands above the rest.
I had a hard time picking out the interaction among the birds from the flocks that surround them. With these high mega-pixel cameras, I was able to crop in to focus the attention and cut the clutter.
It helps to be in the right place at the right time. The best way to do that is scope out the area, find the best spot to take that great photo, and the best time. We were at Whitewater Draw for 4 days, allowing us ample opportunity for photographic greatness. Being prepared also means having the right equipment for the shoot. A fixed telephoto has very narrow flexibility, while a medium zoom provides options and a variety of story telling photos.
I took a lot of photos at varying focal lens with different lens to tell the complete story of the event, from the massive morning lift off to the late afternoon fly-ins, from the sandhill cranes interacting together, their mingling in the pools, to fly by’s. This diverse collection conveys a better sense of Whitewater Draw.
Above all else, I found practice was the best tool to improve my BIF shots. What do they say… practice makes you lucky. So true!
Have you heard of Whitewater Draw? Whitewater Draw is a swampy marsh area in McNeal, in southern AZ, east of Bisbee and north of Douglas (pretty much the border of AZ / Mexico).
Because of the food sources (namely corn fields) and marsh ponds, the sandhill crane flock to Whitewater Draw in droves in the winter months, Oct – March.
They sleep in the ponds to protect themselves from predators. Every morning they lift-off and go to graze in nearby fields.
In the afternoon some come back (between 10 am – noon) to rest and socialize in the ponds.
Just before sunset there is a mass fly in when the cranes come back for the night.
It is a sight to see! The noise of the cranes is deafening. The shear quantity of birds is impressive to say the least.
We participated in a Photo Workshop put on by Arizona Game & Fish (AZGFD). We watched the cranes take off from a distance crossing the moon in their path.
George Andrejko, AZGFD’s professional photographer for more than 20 years, walked around with us through the walking paths, pointing out different birds, and ducks along the way. Where else can you get a one on one with such a gifted and renown Arizona photographer? It was a special experience, one I would do again in a heartbeat.
The mere $25 fee to participate goes to a good cause so that the AZGFD can continue to care for the site and put on more such events.
We not only learned about the site, but were able to speak with talented and knowledgable AZGFD personnel. We met new and interesting like-minded people, enjoyed the outdoors, and had a ‘show’ throughout the day.
I thought I had seen it all… at least most of the animals there were to see. (Though I still have never seen that elusive mountain lion.) The other day we even got the opportunity to see a Ringtail Cat. Which was super cool. I didn’t get a photo, alas… they are nocturnal. I felt fortunate enough just to see this odd little weasel-like creature with a raccoon-ish big stripped tail bigger than his body. (You can see a photo of him here… https://kritterspaw.com/2018/10/30/ring-tale/). But I digress.
The other day, we were outside and this ‘swarm’ of white birds was circling overhead. They settled in the tree in our front yard! Moreover, they stayed!
I’m guessing they were migrating from here to there… where ever the here and there are. But in transit, they needed a rest, and found a good spot right here! Wow!
I can tell you, I got little else done that day!!!
So, they appear to be Great White Egrets… while they are ‘common’ birds…. they certainly aren’t common in our front yard here in the mountains. So I was delighted to have them find rest at our home.
They were here… then they were gone.
I was happy to entertain them… or moreover, have them provide my entertainment, albeit for a short respite.
Sometime when we are young we learn that birds fly south for the winter. So I’ve known that somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, but haven’t really contemplated it or given it much thought.
Yet when we went to Bosque del Apache outside of Socorro, New Mexico that very principle is live and in your face. Thousands of sandhill cranes, white geese, canadian geese, and other waterfowl fly from Alaska – south, to Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge.
Even though it was a ‘light’ year for the birds flocking to Bosque, it was still a sight to see, watching these numerous birds of all different kinds spiraling into the ‘crane pools’.
We watched them early morning (6 am sunrise) and evening (5pm sunset) as they would ‘lift off’ and go to safe ground in the ‘crane pools’. During the day they would flock to the farm fields and feed off the grass. It was definitely good cheap entertainment.