One of my favorite migratory waterbirds is the Sandhill Crane. Sandhill Cranes are tall, elegant but also gangly birds, with gray-blue bodies and a crimson cap for adults. These birds display mating rituals that include exuberant dances in the hopes of securing a mate. The mating dance can include pumping their head, bowing, leaping into the air and a stretching of wings.
Sandhill Cranes mate for life, which can mean 20 or more years together. Some start breeding at two years old, but a crane may be seven years old before it breeds. A mated pair stay together year-round and the juveniles stay close by the parents for about 10 months after hatching. The chicks, called colts, can leave the nest within eight hours of hatching, and can swim at that time.
These birds live in small bogs, marshes, and prairies across North America and the southeastern United States. They gather in various areas by the thousands, and into the tens of thousands, and can easily be heard from a distance as they call out to one another. The early spring gathering of Sandhill Cranes on the Platte River in Nebraska is among the greatest wildlife spectacles on the continent, with over a quarter of a million birds present at one time.
There are four major north-south flyways in North America. The Pacific Flyway, through California, is one of the four major North American migration routes for birds, including waterfowl. The flyway extends from Alaska and Canada, through California, and on to Mexico and South America. The migration of many bird species takes place annually, north to south and south to north. Most species travel the same route each time, although the spring or fall route might vary, and at the same time each year, although routes are often predicated upon existing food sources and available water.
The three other main routes for waterfowl are the East Atlantic Flyway, the Mississippi Flyway, and the Central Flyway; a lesser route is the Allegheny Front flyway in the central Appalachian Mountains. These flyways, or migration routes, are like freeways in the sky. Often these flyways merge at various points and sometimes are not well-defined. Thousands and thousands of birds travel thousands of miles each way to arrive at breeding or over-wintering grounds.
Pt. Reyes seashore is not far from where I live in California but I had never photographed wildlife there until this past September. I located a guide from the area and he drove me around to all of the places he knows where wildlife might be seen. Getting a knowledgeable guide to show you around in the area where you want to photograph wildlife can make all the difference in getting a shot. I can highly recommend Daniel Dietrich as a wildlife guide and he was so easy to be with and very helpful and knowledgeable about the wildlife. Bobcats are hard to find and hard to spot in the brush and my guide knew where they lived and hunted and how to spot them. By the end of the second day I was able to also spot them in the grass, they blend into the background so well that they are difficult to spot. Nature knew how to camouflage them completely. My main intent was to get a decent shot of a bobcat but I was also able to get shots of river otters, egrets, night heron juveniles and owls and a very cute gopher, the animal that every predator hunts. It was a wonderful two days getting to know the wildlife in the area and I hope to return with a longer lens next time, which is crucial to getting a decent shot. Here is a link to Daniel's website: https://www.pointreyessafaris.com/guide.
I’m always wondering why some of us are compelled to pick up a camera and photograph something, whatever it might be. As it’s hot where I live and I seem to want to stay out of the heat my first choice is to photograph the hummers from my porch. In early June I had about 15 of them at two feeders right off my porch. A week or so ago most of them moved on, but I still have three that are hanging around, females, and I’m hoping they might nest here. It’s certainly easier to feed three of them, they are thirsty little guys!
I’ve photographed many hummingbirds, mostly Anna’s as they frequent the Pacific Coast and I live in their area. I see many beautiful shots of hummers at flowers, which I only try for occasionally. Most of my shots are simply hummers in the air doing what hummers do.
I’ve come to realize that for me that it is not about the flower and the bird and a beautiful shot of the two (although I love those shots, too), but more about the action of the bird and how it moves through the air so effortlessly. Thus, my shots are simply birds in the air doing hummingbird acrobat maneuvers. I always take out the feeder using a variety of methods, so I shoot when the bird is approaching the feeder or leaving the feeder to leave me space to work with.
I try to grab the shot of the bird in a variety of different ways, hoping I get something somewhat different, although I like any shot I can get. My favorite shots are the little guy (guy is a California term I think) bringing her/his feet up for a landing, or when she/he is turning away if I can get that. They are fast little birds and I have not been able to get two of them in action, but I have not given up on that. In past years I’ve shot them at a high enough shutter speed, mostly 1/3200, to stop the action, so they sort of hang in the air without wing motion. This year I’m experimenting with getting wing motion, so I’ve used shutter speeds from 1/800 to 1/2500 to see what happens with the wing motion. With the slower speeds it takes more shots to get something that works out as the tiny little wings can get lost in that slowed down motion.
I’m currently using a Nikon Z8, a camera that I recently purchased and loved the minute I picked it up. It’s the perfect weight, unlike the Z9 I got last year, and the camera is lightning fast. I use a Nikon 500PF but do have a long lens made for the mirrorless camera ordered.I like to hand-hold, not use a tripod, and since I’m fast and the camera is fast I can still get sharp shots. A friend recently came over to photograph and he did use a tripod and he was quite happy with his resultant shots. He uses a Nikon Z7 and his shots were very sharp, too.
Photographing hummers takes some concentration as well as some patience, they flit in and out quickly and I have to pay attention. If I get side-tracked I lose a possible good shot. I watch to see when they are coming down to feed and then I start shooting away, unlike the film days there is no cost, other than time, to taking multiple shots.
I have my camera set on 15fps and I focus directly on the hummer and just start shooting until it lands. My finger is poised on the shutter for the take-off and I’ll do the same thing. I shoot in manual mode, I’ve found that f/8 works best for the distance I am away since it’s not too far, maybe 15 or 20 feet, and I use auto ISO. I’ll put the shot in Topaz DeNoise afterwards if needed, this might also include something shot at a low ISO but shot in low light. I’ve found that my cameras, the Z8 or Z9, get a lot of color noise in low light and when I use the Transform slider in LrC this increases noise over all so even a shot with a low ISO needs to be denoised.
I think I am compelled to shoot these lovely little birds because of the action and because I marvel at how swift they are in flight. I’ll probably continue to photograph these hummers off my porch until they move on and as I do I learn more about their behavior and patterns and I love doing that.
More of my hummingbird photos are pictured below.
I've been photographing with serious intent for about 14 years. Twelve years ago I started learning about wildlife photography and I've been hooked on it since then. I still photograph many different subjects, but not usually people unless it's street photography.