birds

Elegance of a Long-tailed Duck by Todd Henson

Elegance of a Long-tailed Duck

In early April of 2019 I had the immense pleasure of spending an entire day photographing a Long-tailed Duck that had departed from its typical migratory route to spend its days diving for food in a small lake in Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, located in Northern Virginia. I’ve written about this duck previously in On a Golden Pond, Reflecting on a Long-tailed Duck, and The Art of a Diving Duck.

Today’s image does a great job showing off the duck’s namesake long tail. I really like the pose the duck gave me, how it turned its head just slightly, looking my way, as if it were a professional model posing for the camera. Very elegant, I thought. And the water droplets show it had just recently been underwater, and was just briefly pausing up top before diving below again. Can’t get much better than that.

This photograph was created just before 5 PM with the sun behind me and having just drifted below the trees in the background. This helped provide a nice soft light on the lake and the duck. I wasn’t directly at water level, but I did have the camera and tripod down low, to photograph the bird as close to its eye level as possible. This helps us better connect with the subject and often looks much better than standing up tall and looking down at something. Give this technique a try some time. Get down to your subject’s eye level and create photographs from their perspective. See what you think of the results.

If you like this photograph please consider stopping by the shop. In addition to wall art, you can purchase greeting cards, throw pillows, and a number of other products for around the house or as gifts.


National Geographic Complete Birds of North America by Todd Henson

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National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

National Geographic Complete Birds of North America is one hefty birding resource. I’m not entirely sure what it weighs, but I wouldn’t want to drop it on my foot. It contains over 740 pages and measures approximately 7” x 10” and is about 1 3/4” thick.

You could think of this as a field guide on steroids, or perhaps a small birding encyclopedia. It has a layout and content very similar to most fields guides, but contains more information about each species. Some of the illustrations are smaller than in my Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America, but with much more text about each species, providing descriptions, guides to identification, geographic ranges and variations, similar species, characteristics of voice, status & distribution, and breeding information. It contains maps, photographs, and illustrations.

Pages 200-201 of  National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 200-201 of National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 322-323 of  National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 322-323 of National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 354-355 of  National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Pages 354-355 of National Geographic Complete Birds of North America

Many folks these days might not need a resource such as this, what with all the information freely available online. But I’ve always been a bit of a book lover, and I think this book would appeal to those of you who love holding a resource in your hands and flipping through the pages reading about different species. I’ll look up a specific species and end up spending much longer than anticipated flipping through reading about other species.

I have far too many field guides and bird books, but I’m still pleased to have added National Geographic Complete Birds of North America to my library. It’s the sort of large resource you keep at home where you can study and learn at your leisure, then head into the field to seek out first hand what you’d just read about and studied in the book.

 
 

Don't Forget to Look UP When Photographing Birds by Todd Henson

Great Blue Heron flying away from the scene of the crime.

WARNING: This topic, though light-hearted, may not appeal to all viewers. But it does teach an important lesson if you photograph birds in the wild.

I love photographing birds, especially when I’m able to document birds in flight. But there is at least one potential downside to this activity, something that could ruin your day if you’re not careful to avoid it.

A Great Blue Heron. Such a beautiful bird. And yet... see the photo further below.

What am I talking about? Why is the title of this post, “Don’t Forget to Look UP When Photographing Birds?” Well, birds often defecate while in flight, or just before taking flight. And it’s not fun to be on the receiving end of this.

I feel sorry for any poor paddler in the river below this Great Blue Heron! Click on the image for a larger view. Go ahead, I dare you!

Thankfully, I’ve never been on the receiving end of a Great Blue Heron or Bald Eagle. As you can see in these photographs they can make quite a mess. But I have been hit by a Canada Goose flying overhead. It was so low I almost felt the air from its wings. Geese mostly eat plant matter so what I was hit with was fairly solid and didn’t make much of a mess. But birds that eat fish, animals or insects aren’t as easy to clean up from. I have been hit by a smaller song bird. Not fun.

So what’s my advice?

Don't stand too close when looking up at Bald Eagles! Not sure what you're seeing? Click on the image to see a larger version.

  • Always be aware of your surroundings. Try to determine the birds typical flight path, or places they commonly perch. You can’t plan everything, there’s always a chance one will fly over you, but being aware of where they may fly or perch at least gives you a chance of avoiding any bad encounters. If you see one heading your way just be aware of what might happen and be ready to move. The odds should be fairly low, but it does happen.
  • Learn the behavior of the birds you’re observing. Many birds, such as Bald Eagles and Osprey, will often defecate before taking flight. So be careful if you are observing a perched bird from down below, especially if it begins to left its tail feathers. They have more range than you might think!
  • Always wear a hat! Your clothes may still be a mess but at least it will help protect your head. When the goose let loose it hit my hat and backpack and mostly bounced off. No real harm done. When I was hit by the song bird I wasn’t wearing a hat. I had to clean off my hair, the side of my face, and my sunglasses. And all this in the middle of a busy city. Not my best day, but hey, “it” happens!
  • Always carry a towel or cloth of some kind with you, just in case you might need it. It’s not fun cleaning up this kind of mess without a cloth, trust me!
  • Bring some of that portable hand wash with you. Wiping it off is one thing, but getting yourself clean is nice, too.

Well, that’s it for today. I apologize for the somewhat unappealing topic, but it does happen and it’s best to plan ahead in case it ever happens to you. And worst case, if it does happen, you’ll have quite the story you never want to tell your friends about! 😀

Have fun out there. Enjoy photographing nature. And always remember: Look UP when photographing birds!!!

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